Laboratory microscopes produce beautiful images, but cost over £3,000 and are difficult to use. Cheap microscopes do not have enough resolution for professional use or teaching. ioLight has invented a portable microscope, with a resolution of better than 1μm, which produces beautiful pictures of animal and plant cells and displays them directly onto your tablet or mobile phone.
This is the first truly portable precision microscope according to the UK patent office search. It allows scientists, students and enthusiasts to take a precision microscope out of the lab or classroom to anywhere that science is and to share images or paste them into documents instantly. Our first product will sell at about £700, much less than other precision microscopes, and we plan to reduce pricing to consumer levels. ioLight’s patent application protects some unique features:
1) It fits into a jacket or rucksack pocket and is battery powered, making it highly portable.
2) It uses standard microscope slides that are essential to scientists and teachers.
3) It has no eyepiece, but connects immediately to smartphones and tablets so that images and videos can be captured and shared easily.
4) It has a resolution of 1µm, which is comparable with laboratory microscopes.
5) The digital image and the high resolution mean that the microscope can produce high magnification images just by using a big screen, or by zooming in to the image, without significant graininess. Full screen images give a magnification of about x200 on a 10″ tablet and about x800 on a 42″ monitor.
6) It includes many of the advanced features used by professional microscopists including a movable xy stage, sample height adjustment and adjustable top and bottom illumination.
7) It can view and record video directly onto a tablet with no other equipment, which makes for fascinating studies of protozoa in ponds and rivers and other moving subjects.
We want these features and benefits to change the way people engage with science. Children find it very difficult to squint through the eyepiece of poor quality school microscopes, but our video shows children really enjoying looking at micro beasts using the ioLight microscope. We also want the microscope to help clinicians in developing countries to diagnose disease and to share images to get a second opinion. Many of these clinics cannot currently afford a precision microscope and do not have the reliable power supply they would need to operate these mains powered instruments.
ioLight’s founders, Andrew Monk and Richard Williams have both held CEO posts in technology start ups. In January 2013 we sat in a pub thinking about what our next company could be. We both mentor entrepreneurs starting technology businesses, so we know that the best propositions are simple enough to explain to friends, family and investors, but sufficiently novel to patent. We have watched recent developments in smart phone and tablet screens and wanted to put these at the centre of our new company. There are plenty of cameras and telescopes for smart phones and there are even a few microscopes, but we were surprised not to find any really good ones.
With his PhD in optics and 20 years of experience in optical engineering, Richard soon worked out why this was and the ioLight microscope was born. We filed a UK patent application in 2014 and a worldwide PCT application in 2015.
Richard and Andrew enlisted the help of John Foster, a successful engineering entrepreneur, to help them design and build a robust working prototype to show to customers.
The reaction was very positive: Sparsholt college Winchester said “The ioLight produced images that were as clear as those produced by much more expensive microscopes. Its portability and the ease with which its images can be accessed and shared offer clear benefits in teaching biological and veterinary sciences”. The Eden Project simply said “The ioLight Microscope is Awesome!” and there are more endorsements in our Business Plan.