A 3D-printed smartphone microscope system is making microbiology interactive by allowing school kids to experiment and play games with light-seeking microbes.

microscope systemThe so-called Ludus Scope borrows its name from the Latin word “ludus,” which means “play,” “game” or “elementary school.” The device looks similar to a standard microscope system, but can be docked with a smartphone and features LED lights controlled with a joystick. Students use these to influence the swimming direction of Euglena microbes, which exhibit characteristics of both plants and animals because they feed like animals but photosynthesize like plants.

A companion smartphone app allows kids to track individual microbes by tapping on them on the screen. Features like scale bars, speed readings and grid overlays help users take measurements of things they see in the field of view. The app also comes with games that let students track microbes while attempting to guide them around a “Pac-Man”-style maze or use them to score goals on a simulated soccer pitch. [Gift Ideas for Kids: Best Educational Toys & Games]

The idea is the brainchild of Ingmar Riedel-Kruse, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, whose lab is developing ways to make bioscience education more interactive and engaging.

“The most important thing I think you can do as a teacher or parent is inspire. Get them excited  that’s almost more important than the actual content delivery.

Riedel-Kruse said one of his major inspirations was video games, which came about because electronics and computers became powerful enough to simulate things. With the ability to manipulate biological systems now reaching similar levels, the team decided to explore using microorganisms to design games and other media.

With the Ludus Scope, the designer wanted a device that not only helped kids learn formal science skills in a more interactive way, but also helped them learn by playing and learn by building, Riedel-Kruse said. The DIY nature of the system means it  teaches things like optics, fabrication, electronics and programming, he said.