Make: Projects – Laser projection microscope

Make: Projects – Laser projection microscope
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A couple of weeks ago I posted about this sweet laser stunt from, and I finally got around to trying it for myself. My laser is only 10% as powerful as theirs, but I can now say with conviction: Everyone should try this.

The only tricky part is getting the laser and the hanging drop of water lined up and keeping them aligned, but this simple stand I built from hardware store odds-and-ends makes it easy. The laser and syringe snap into broom clips mounted on supermagnet bases which allow easy positional adjustments, but hold strongly enough to keep everything in alignment once you’ve got it right.


18 thoughts on “Make: Projects – Laser projection microscope

  1. Br.Squid says:

    Hey! This sounds very similar to something I was trying just last week. I made a Van Leeuwenhoek style microscope when I was in grade school from a couple sheets of soda can tin, some laboratory glass rod, and an alcohol burner. (See for the method). I remember reading about it in a science based periodical, but haven’t been able to find the article (probably mid 70’s – I think I made mine in 1979).

    Lately, I’ve been trying to make an actual replica, from brass. I’m at the stage now where I want to make a lens, and have been testing various lenses to see which are better than others. I glued a lens onto a spare sheet of brass with a hole drilled through it, and experimented viewing the cells in a leaf. You have to hold the lens right up to your eye to see it, so I found that an easier way to use it was by projecting the image on a wall with a powerful flashlight.

    It’s essentially the same method as shown in the article above, but I used a flashlight through a hole, instead of a laser pointer, and glass instead of water. The resulting image was very faint, but visible. Unfortunately, it was too faint to record with any camera I had on hand.

    I’ll have to retry it with a laser pointer and see if I can get pictures.

  2. Rob Cruickshank says:

    Just fired mine up- your design with the magnets works brilliantly. I’ll throw some pictures in the Flickr pool tomorrow.
    BTW if people are looking for critters to swim in the drop,just get some water squeezed from an aquarium filter. it’s like a mini zoo!

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:


      Sorry it took me so long to get ’round to this comment. I would love to see the pics from your own experiments. Did I miss them in the Flickr pool? You can always e-mail them to me directly, if you like, as well.


  3. Rob Cruickshank says:

    Oops, sorry, I got a bit sidetracked, I had some photos, but wanted to redo them. It’s on the list for today!

  4. Rob Cruickshank says:

    Pictures of the project here-;
    I’ll try get some shots of the critters in action, too.

  5. Steve Davee says:

    Thanks so much for this inspiring post.

    I’ve fashioned a super-simple version that actually works quite well, with the proper amount of wire bending tweaks:

    Thanks Rob, for the tip about the aquarium filter. It’s incredible dense with life, even compared to pond water.

  6. Dale T Hylton says:

    This was a fun project! We used a fly tying kit and made the laser microscope. This was a fun one for my 9 year old.

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      That is super cool, Dale. Thanks, thanks, thanks for sending that
      video our way. Cheers -SMR

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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