This week ALDI in our area is selling little digital microscopes, among other specials. I thought for only sixty dollars it was worth a gamble - wouldn't it be cool to have a microscope for our seven year old daughter? - and I do not regret it.
Obviously we are not talking professional quality here. The picture is a bit blurry compared to a really good microscope, and the images it takes are only 800 x 600 pixels. It also does not have an ocular but runs entirely through a connected computer. But it is still functional to show a child the beauty of nature at smaller scales, and it may even become useful for the odd, quick shot to be integrated into a lecture or presentation, e.g. if I pick something up during a walk on the weekend and don't want to go through the trouble of using our high-end microscopy facility at work for something that trivial.
But for the moment our daughter in particular loves exploring small plant parts or fibres with the microscope.
Above: A moss leaf, the first object I collected to show her. Note the individual cells are clearly visible; what more do you need to demonstrate that organisms are build from cells?
I was a bit worried at first because the microscope comes with software only for Windows and Mac. A staff member at the store told us that "the program will work on Linux, Linux uses the Mac OS anyway, trust me, I am a software engineer", but I knew even then that that was what we might euphemistically call an over-simplification.
But no matter - the software it comes with is unnecessary. It turns out that a random webcam program, in our case the pre-installed Cheese, can run the microscope camera just as well. So far I am not regretting changing over to Ubuntu either.