What's new here?

When selling a telescope to a customer, we often give advice on how to view in light polluted areas. Simple stuff such as selecting your targets, using filters, etc. Often we asked “is there anywhere I can go and get away from the light pollution?”

The answer depends on your answer to ‘How far do you want to drive?’

One thing we have in our telescope section is a version of this light pollution map on the wall:


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Toy cars have been around for as long as there have been cars. Toy cars run the quality line from high-detail die-cast models to simple plastic frames on metal wheels. Some models are meant to be played with, other meant to just look good. Some toy cars might have a feature that makes tham more than a frame on some wheels: a steering wheel, light up lights, etc.

Now Thoughful Toys, Inc has introduced the Modarri line. A series of toy cars that kids assemble themselves and drive with their fingers. They include such details as real steering, soft gripping tires, and real suspension to smooth out bumps and jumps:


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For a couple of years we have been offering various wind gnereating kits such as the Savonius Wind Turbine. These kits do quite well but schools may find they need more to teach energy generation as part of a STEM program. So now Picoturbine offers multiple kits for Wind and Solar energy generation.  There are several designs that depend on the size & design of the windmill (Mini, Standard, and Limitless) as well as the systems ability to generate AC, DC or both.


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This is a continuation of the Universal Smartphone Microscope Part 1 entry.

So now that we’ve seen most of the characteristics of the Smartphone Microscope, let’s test it out. Right off the bat there is a small defect – the microscope comes with a leatherette carrying case, but that holds just the microscope part, not the clamp. So we kind of had to improvise:

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Now we attached the microscope to the smartphone. It very quickly becomes apparent that aligning the microscope to the smartphone camera lens isn’t hard, but getting it aligned exactly is much harder. This will become apparent when we start using the microscope.

When you first attach it and do some basic alignment you will note there is a lot of vignetting – so you will need to zoom in by using your touchscreen.


We started off taking images of a coin. A penny to be exact. The attached light was on and we had some struggles with the focuser. For our pruposes this the extending tube to focus may not be useful at all – we could have glued it down and saved some trouble. But we weren’t doing all microscope techniques, nor did our Smartphone have a caryying case to work over.  Here is how the penny looked:

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Not a bad image, although there is some glare from the light coming from the side – this side-lighting does have the advantage of giving some depth to three dimensional objects, but lacks the diversity of a ring-light illumination or inspection microscope’s top-down illumination.

You may also notice the image is a bit out of focus at the far left and right parts of the image. Better alignment might have solved this issue.

For fun I took an image of my finger:

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Then an image of a part of a magazine cover that was lying around:

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Then it was time to see how it does with other items, we took some microscope slides we had in the store. The first was a slide with 3 cross sections of plant leaves. Only two were visible i nthe field of view.

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We tried to move back and take an image of an housefly leg, but there were issues with focusing because the slide had been damaged before we tried to use it (the cover slip had lots of cracks)

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The final slide was some paramecium, we first tried it to see if there was a difference if we just used the UV light:

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There is a bit of a difference as you can see from the image taken under white light:

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Finally, just for tradition an image of a letter ‘S’ on a blue background was taken:

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As you can see if you expand these images, there was still some blurring at the edges. If had taken more time aligning the microscope we might have resolved this issue, but all things considered, we were impressed with the images we got, especially given that this is just a $12.95 microscope!

In conclusion – the Universal Smartphone Microscope is not a replacement for an actual microscope – mostly due to the edge focus and other minor issues – but for a low price you can have a decently powered microscope camera in the palm of your hand!

Want to buy the Universal Smartphone Microscope?



The fact that nearly everyone is carrying a Smartphone, and therefore a digital camera in their pockets lends itself to some wonderful solutions with just a bit of accesorizing. Lab equipment is being designed around the Smartphone and you can expect more such items in the future.

Now it stands to reason that the camera on your smartphone could be adapted to other optical systems to turn your Smartphone into a telescope or microscope camera.  Well, for telescoping the best that can be done so far is to develop ways to attach the phone to binoculars or telescopes, as they tend to require some hefty optics. But small microscopes are nothing new, so why not attach a microscope system to a Smartphone? Well this was also done, but previous designs did have some issues -namely that to hold the camera you needed to put the smartphone into a special case:


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A new product line has come to the store, it’s the ‘World’s Smallest _____’ line and it really does live up to its name.  Just have a look at the World’s Smallest Rubik’s Cube


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While carrying some boxes over to the local post office one of them sadly fell on the ground. One of the Postal employess commented that he hoped what was in the box was not fragile. I answered “Not this one, it is full of Iron Filings.”. “Iron Filings? Why would someone want that?”196

Why indeed?

Iron Filings are not the most exciting product we carry in the store. Its a bag, and it has 1 pound of Iron Filings inside it. Oh, and a label. Gotta have the label saying what it is. That’s it. And yet we sell quite a few of them!

So what are iron filings for? Here’s a few art & science projects that requires them:

1) Magnetic field patterns: Place a magnet (preferably a bar magnet) flat on a large piece of paper and sprinkle the irong filings on the paper around the magnet. The iron filings will line up to to illustrate the ‘field lines’ of the magnetic field of the magnet

2) Making Rust: There are a number of experiments listed out there where you add vinegar to iron filings to show how it oxidizes and makes rust.  Sometimes when you do this you will get a ‘rotten egg’ smell and its not exacly certain why that happens.

3) Budget Ferrofluid: Actual ferrofluid is kinda pricey, so many folks use irong filings sealed in a test tube with light oil (30w) to act as a budget version of ferrofluid. Its efficacy is…debatable.

4) Art Toys: Remember those ‘magnetic doodlers’ where you uses a tip to give a face eyebrows or a mustache? The ‘hair’ was actually made of Iron Filings. Some take this idea a step further

5) Music: Let’s just watch this, shall we?

6) Make a Fuzzy Magnet Pet. Take a powerful rare-earth magnet and drop it into a bag of iron filings to get this nifty fuzzy iron tribble!


Want to buy Iron Filings?



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