Convert a microscope to a webcam

Contributed by
Lizabeth Arum

Creating Microcosms So, no it’s not space, but…

This project was designed for Brooklyn, NY's PS10's 2017 "Catch a Rocket to S.T.E.A.M. Fair." Organizers were looking for hands on space activities. So in addition to bringing models of the Mar's Curiosity Rover and a model rocket, I came equipped with some converted webcam microscopes so that attendees could create images of their own universes.

a one dollar bill
A one dollar bill
a page from the economist
A page from the Economist

Sunflower Stem
A sunflower stem
young root of broad bean
A young root of a broad bean

The word microcosm refers to a vision of cosmos where a part reflects the whole, or put another way, sometimes it’s possible to imagine an entire “universe” by making something very small large.

Use the converted webcam microscope to create a beautiful abstract image or to create an image that might look like something you might find in space.

Why use a webcam?

  • A webcam's digital camera works by capturing light through a small lens onto a CMOS or CCD image sensor.
  • The sensor converts the picture into a digital format that is transmitted to the computer usually through a USB cable.
  • The lens on the camera is designed to take a wide-angle view and focus it onto the small sensor.
  • But if you flip the lens around, this process is reversed and the very small image appears magnified instead, about 200x magnification!

Materials needed

  • A webcam
  • A small screwdriver
  • A flashlight

fusion360 file


  • Dismantle the webcam by removing the screws from the outer casing.
  • Prise off the cover to expose the electronics inside.
  • Remove the lens. Twist it firmly to unscrew it from the casing.
  • Remove the optical lens' outer ring by popping it off using firm pressure.
  • Take the lens, without its outer ring and flip it over.
  • Stick the reversed lens back onto the electronics using electrical tape if necessary.
  • Re-connect the modified webcam to the computer and point it at the screen. You should now be able to see a close-up of some pixels.
  • Using the software of your choice, design a case for the modified webcam.
  • Hold a flashlight above your microscope to backlight your object.

Note: The microscope's focus can be changed by raising or lowering the upper platform a few millimeters.


This project was inspired by Greenwich Academy’s Erin Riley’s presentation at NAEA 2017. Erin recreated devices first documented on April 8, 2013 by the Waag Society who worked with pupils of the OSB school in Amsterdam to rebuild webcams into microscopes. Armed with their microscopes the participants showed close-up images on their computers. The project encouraged using the devices for either science or art.

In August of 2013, Mark Miodownik, presenter from Dara O Briain's Science Club on BBC Two also documented how to convert a webcam into a microscope.