Monday, August 31, 2015

How to turn your iPad into a cool 3D Holographic Projector for Fluorescence Microscopy

Hologram of a Cell undergoing mitosis
Hologram of a Cell undergoing mitosis
It's one of those concepts straight out of a science fiction movie like Star Trek - holographic projectors that show images and video in 3D.  But what if I told you that in only 3 simple steps, you could make your very own holographic imaging device to view your Fluorescence Microscopy images in vivid detail as shown above? Does it sound too good to be true??? Well, it's not! If you're interested in how to pull this off, and have an extra 30 minutes on hand for an easy DIY project, then read on! 
The concept of a hologram projector may sound quite complex, but using some simple optical principles (which I won’t get into in this blog), we can make one with the following supplies:
  • Tablet or cell phone (I tried it with both an iPhone and an iPad)
  • Clear plastic (you could use the clear plastic from a CD case cover)
  • Graph paper
  • Scissors
  • Box cutter knife
  • Tape
  • One of your coolest Fluorescence Microscopy images
  • Photo editing software 
Step 1: Cut 4 identical trapezoid shapes from the clear plastic. To do this, I cut out a basic trapezoid shape from my graph paper (shown below). I used that to trace the shape on my clear plastic, and then cut the four pieces with the box cutter. The size of the trapezoid below is for an iPad. I also made one for my iPhone where all the dimensions were half of what is shown below.   

Tape the 4 clear plastic trapezoid pieces together as shown below
Step 2: Tape the 4 clear plastic trapezoid pieces together as shown below.  That is actually all the hardware that you have to make.

Step 3: This step requires some knowledge of photo editing, so you may have to ask a friend or coworker for help.  The goal here is to turn your single cool fluorescent microscopy image into an image that contains 4 copies of the photo in progressive 90 degree orientations.  As an example, I took one of our high magnification Cytation 5 images that was acquired by BioTek’s Applications lab and converted it with Photoshop, as shown below.

image converted with Photoshop

Once the above image was created, I loaded it onto my iPad. 

Now that steps 1, 2, and 3 are done, all that is needed is to put everything together to use.

Place your iPad on a flat surface and load the image that you created in Photoshop onto your ipad.  Next, place the 4 sided clear plastic contraption (let’s call it the “holographic projector”) directly on top of the iPad in the center of the image with the small opening down, as shown below.

“holographic projector”
To best view the hologram, dim the lights in the room you are in and bend down so that you’re eyes are on the same level as the holographic projector.  What you should immediately see is a 3D-like projection of the cell that shows up in the center of the holographic projector (shown below).  Your first instinct very likely will be to try and touch the image, which both my 4-year old and I tried to do.  Incidentally, my 4 year old kept referring to the image as a "hot air balloon"; hopefully as a seasoned scientist I won't have to point out to you (as I did repeatedly to him...) that this is actually a cell undergoing mitosis, not a hot air balloon.  But I digress... Regardless of whether it’s a hot air balloon or a mitotic cell, it's still really cool to see it.

3D-like projection
Below is one more example of an image viewed with this hologram projector. If you’ve gotten this far and want to have even more fun with this device, search on Youtube for “hologram” or “holographic” videos; there are numerous results of videos that can be used with this device that give you an even more spectacular viewing experience. However, sadly, there are no videos with fluorescently labeled cells (which I guess gives me opportunity for a follow up blog post). 

 image with with the holographic projector
Now that all the hard work is done, all that’s left is to WOW your colleagues at your next lab meeting by using this to show off your microscopy images.  But please be forewarned: with a gadget like this, your coworkers may secretly think you are from the future so make sure any of your answers sound very futuristic too. Who says Science can’t be fun!?!

By: BioTek Instruments, Caleb Foster, Product Manager, Development


  1. Amazing post. I learned something new. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. I'm on the lookout for a new ipad accessory. This one sounds great.