A smartphone microscopy device developed at Stanford University is designed to do more than just image and study cells. The 3D-printed LudusScope is an interactive tool that allows children to play games or make scientific observations with light-seeking microbes called Euglena gracilis.

“Many subject areas like engineering or programming have neat toys that get kids into it, but microbiology does not have that to the same degree,” says Ingmar Riedel-Kruse, an assistant professor of bioengineering. “The initial idea for this project was to play games with living cells on your phone. And then it developed much beyond that to enable self-driven inquiry, measurement and building your own instrument.”

The interactive microscope platform enables biotic game play with live cells. Image source: StanfordThe interactive microscope platform enables biotic game play with live cells. Image source: StanfordFour LEDs surround the platform for the microscope slide where the Euglena swim. Manipulating a joystick that activates the LEDs enables kids to affect the swimming direction of the microbes. A smartphone holder above the platform positions the phone’s camera over a microscope eyepiece, providing a view of the cells below.

The kit runs software on top of the image of the cells to enable game play. One game uses a maze containing small white dots. Kids select one cell to track, then use the LED lights to control which direction the cell swims in an attempt to guide it around the maze and collect the dots. In another game, players earn points by guiding the Euglena through goal posts.

Non-game applications provide microscope scale-bars, real-time displays of swimming speed or zoomed-in views of individual cells. These let kids collect data on Euglena behavior, swimming speed, and natural biological variability. Riedel-Kruse encourages teachers to have students model the behaviors they see using a simple programming application called Scratch, which many kids already learn in school.

For the joystick controller, students would need to wire a small circuit out of common electronics parts to receive signals from the joystick and transmit them to the LEDs.

Euglena are already commonly used in classrooms and they can be purchased through biological supply companies. For the game, Euglena swim within a chamber made by adhering strips of double-sided tape to the slide and to the cover slip.

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