Maker Faire: Tom Zimmerman and his DIY video microscope for backyard biology


Rotifers are strange little animals that live in pond water. A type of planknton, they munch on algae, clone themselves, and only give birth to females unless they’re stressed. Rotifers make great pets, but you need a powerful microscope to look at them. At the upcoming Maker Faire, Tom Zimmerman will show how to hack an inexpensive Webcam or old security camera into a lensless video microscope so you can watch your very own plankton pals swimming around in a drop of water. He’ll even give you Rotifers to take home. Zimmerman is a brilliant maker best known for inventing the virtual reality DataGlove and co-developing the “personal area network” that enabled peopled to swap electronic business cards just by shaking hands.

To make his microscopecam, Zimmerman removes the lens from a Web or security cam and drops pond water on the cover of the imager chip. A tiny LED casts shadows of the microscopic organisms right onto the chip. The pixels on the imager chip are only about 10 microns, so the little creatures can be seen without focusing. At the Maker Faire, Zimmerman will show you how to hack together your own microscopecam so you can make plankton home videos like this one he made with a $30 security camera.

“I love to put connectors on commercialized technology to leverage all of the engineering and cost reduction that went into a product,” Zimmerman said in his Proto profile in MAKE: Volume 04. “It becomes reusable hardware and you just need a little ‘glueware’ to connect things together and make new devices.”

The Bay Area Maker Faire is May 19 and 20 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. Advance tickets are now available.

8 thoughts on “Maker Faire: Tom Zimmerman and his DIY video microscope for backyard biology

  1. japroach says:

    “This video has been removed by the user.”

  2. philliptorrone says:

    i’ll check out what’s up, thanks.

  3. Tzim says:

    Here’s the link to the video

  4. Tzim says:

    Phillip; Can you change the link of the video to point to

    Thanks, Tom Z

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