One hit toy this Christmas was the RX5 microscope. With it, kids can view fungi, amoebas and other childhood fascinations. But scientists, doctors and researchers have also snatched up the plaything, which comes with a powerful lens and can be used to send images over the Internet. It also has an $89 price tag that is less than one-tenth of its professional-grade counterparts.
Interest from adults is taking Digital Blue Inc., the microscope’s maker, by surprise. ‘I founded the company,’ says Digital Blue CEO Tim Hall, to ‘get kids playing something other than videogames.’
I thought the adults simply found the microscope amusing. It looks like they’re using it for real work:
Andrew Westphal, an astrophysicist at the University of California at Berkeley, says he was recently able to examine some microscopic dust from outer space with the help of the RX5′s plastic lens. That is because a conventional microscope’s glass lens would have suffered from the hydrofluoric acid used to separate the particles from other elements. “Had it not been for the toy, we would have been at a loss,” he says.
Meanwhile, patients suffering from Morgellons, a rare type of skin disease, have been getting medical information by using the microscope in sending images of their lesions to Morgellons Research Foundation in McMurray, Pa. The toy is “made for kids so it’s pretty easy to us” to use, says Mary Leitao, the foundation’s executive director. Collectors of stamps and sports memorabilia are also using the microscope for authentication purposes, Digital Blue says.