Lensless Stereo-Microscopic Imaging

This lensless stereo microscope outputs field-sequential 3D video using a single imaging chip and two LEDs to track the 3D trajectory of dozens of plankton in a drop of water. The robust, compact system is inexpensive and easy to use for remote environmental sensing and high-throughput combinatorial biological experiments.

Enhanced Life

Users wear LCD shutter glasses to observe live plankton (rotifers) swimming around in 3D on a CRT monitor plugged into the lensless stereo microscope. They can watch plankton feed, move their food around, attach themselves to the glass cover, and reproduce (all the rotifers are females, and they clone themselves once a day).


This project has three main goals:
  • To make a simple, inexpensive, and easy-to-use microscope for students.

  • To track microorganisms in 3D to monitor the behavior and health of microorganisms in the field and lab.

  • To use simple microorganisms as chemical and environmental sensors by establishing a baseline for their behavior and detecting deviations from the baseline.


The system uses commercial digital imaging sensors as microscopes. The sensors exploit geometry and lighting to enhance sensitivity, produce high-contrast images, and support easier and faster image processing. Field-synchronous illumination enables tracking of multiple microscopic targets in 3D, and creation of 3D images from a single image sensor.


This inexpensive, simple, yet powerful microscope combines digital silicon technology with stereo imaging for two main purposes:
  • Educational. The microscope is easier to use than conventional lens microscopes. In the next one to three years, students and teachers should benefit from using them in the classroom.

  • Scientific. The microscope is well adapted to automation. Over the next 10 years, this technology could enhance systems that monitor dozens of microscopes for large population studies, environmental monitoring, and combinational studies to examine how chemicals and genetics affect the operation and behavior of multicellular aquatic organisms.


Thomas Zimmerman
IBM Almaden Research Center
Tzim (at) almaden.ibm.com


Barton A. Smith
IBM Almaden Research Center