Other field microscopes just became obsolete

Fish expert, Bill Manci, Fisheries Technology Associates, Inc.

Fish expert Bill Manci tests ioLight microscope

Fish expert Bill Manci reviews the ioLight portable microscope

A new product has entered the aquaculture marketplace that, potentially, could revolutionize fish disease diagnostics and live feed identification in the field or tank-side.

As a longtime aquaculture consultant, I am very familiar with conventional approaches to collection and visual analysis of potentially diseased tissues, and viewing of microscopic live food organisms. In the past, samples were collected for later preparation and viewing in a laboratory. Opportunities to view samples at a microscopic level in the field simply did not exist. Clumsy and heavy microscopes are simply too large to be practical in the field, they require power to light the viewing stage, and are easily damaged.

A British company called ioLight has developed a new set of devices that make microscopic viewing in the field possible, and indeed very easy.

ioLight offers two field-capable microscopes that are compact and easy to carry into the field. Here’s the best part. These battery-powered units generate their own Wi-Fi signals that easily connect to your iOS (i.e., iPhone or iPad) or Android device for easy viewing of the magnified image.

There are two versions of the ioLight microscope—the so-called 1-mm and 2-mm units, which refer to the width of the field of view. The 1-mm unit offers resolution down to 1 µm, and the 2-mm version is used for larger target samples. In my case, I used the 2-mm unit, which provided excellent views of microscopic zooplankton such as daphnids and rotifers, as well as individual gill filaments and parasites that potentially inhabit those tissues.

The first thing that struck me when I held the unit was its look and feel. This is a substantial, high-quality instrument made with durable materials that will stand the test of time.

Folded for storage and in its cushiony waterproof neoprene case, the unit fit nicely in my hand (6.25” X 4” X 1.25”), and weighed less than 1 pound. The optics pivot and unfold from the base, and slide up or down by hand to produce a rough focus of the target image.

I then used the ioLight app that I downloaded to my iPhone to view the subject and achieve perfect fine focus. From the app, you can choose to light the subject from above, or below, or both. You also can activate a grid from the app to accurately measure the size of objects in your sample. I then easily snapped photos and videos and stored the images on my phone.

After the photos were captured on my phone, I was able to zoom in and out as with any other photo, and see additional details without pixelation. I was quite impressed with the photo quality, despite the small size of the optics—undoubtedly, a real breakthrough.

While I can envision a multitude of uses for these devices in a number of professions, anyone serious about aquaculture will want these new tools in their diagnostic and management inventory.

Without a doubt, the portability and ruggedness of these units and the high quality of the images are the innovations that truly wowed me. For me, this was one of those moments when you say to yourself, “How did I ever get along without this device?”

Interested in trying or buying one? As compared to much larger and “clunkier” conventional technologies, ioLight microscopes are a real bargain. The 2-mm general-purpose unit has a price tag of just $1,100, and the 1-mm cell-resolution unit costs $1,200, which includes the microscope and all shipping and taxes. Customers in the US must contact the distributor, AquaSolver, in southern California (760-518-8170). If you are not satisfied, you can return the unit for a refund within 30 days.

This is an every-day device for your every-day needs.

About Bill Manci

Bill Manci is the President of Fisheries Technology Associates where he specializes, since 1982, in fisheries management, characterization and evaluation of wild fisheries, and technical and economic feasibility analysis of fish farming and aquaculture facilities. Mr. Manci also specializes in fisheries industry and commercial fishing intelligence and statistics; wild fisheries and aquaculture investment due diligence; finfish and shellfish production technology, equipment, fish feeds, fish vaccines, and systems; development of integrated aquaponics systems; and aquaculture facility and production system design, management, and assessment. He manages a team of 28 technical professionals within the fisheries and aquaculture field. Mr. Manci has more than 42 years of experience, has published more than 300 articles, and writes an editorial column for Fish Farming News and contributes to other international publications. He also participated for six years in aquaculture and fisheries research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since 1991, Mr Manci has been recognized as a Certified Fisheries Professional by the American Fisheries Society.

Fisheries Technology Associates, Inc., is a Fort Collins, Colorado (USA)-based aquaculture, aquaponics, and fisheries consulting firm. They may be reached at +1 970-225-0150 or manci@ftai.com.

Win a pair of complimentary passes to New Scientist Live

Hopefully by now you know that ioLight is on stand 607 at the greatest festival of ideas in the known universe! New Scientist Live takes place from Thursday 28th September to Sunday 1st October at ExCel in London docklands.

But how do you get free tickets for New Scientist Live?

Simple! All you have to do is to identify the household object below. To make it even easier, we have given you two pictures. They are both taken on ioLight’s new 2mm field of view portable microscope, which we are launching at the show.

The ioLight microscope is the world’s first lab quality portable digital microscope that fits in your pocket. The high resolution 1mm version has a resolution of 1 micron, that’s enough to display animal and plant cells clearly on the screen of your tablet. The tablet display means that everyone sees the same picture, so it’s great for education and training, and you can share your images and videos in a couple of clicks. At last scientists, engineers, educators and vets can analyse samples anywhere, without going back to the lab.

The new 2mm version has a wider field of view, which is ideal for cell counting applications and makes it even easier to use.

See the new 2mm microscope at New Scientist Live.

Win free passes to New Scientist Live

Win Free tickets to New Scientist Live

What is this? Answers on ioLight’s Facebook page.

To enter, simply go to ioLight’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/iolightmicro and post your answer. Don’t forget to Like our page as well.

Not so easy perhaps?

If  you are struggling to identify the image, you can still book tickets at https://live.newscientist.com/buy-tickets and use discount code EXHIBITOR10 to receive a 10% discount on any ticket.

We look forward to seeing you at New Scientist Live on stand 607.

Good luck!


ioLight microscope design wins award

ioLight is pleased to announce that our design partners at Cambridge Industrial Design have won a European Product Design Award for their creative work on the ioLight portable microscope.

Thanks to Tim, Alex and Adrian for your hard work. The microscope is a thing of great beauty as well as its impressive functionality!

Full details here

ioLight wins grant to develop low-cost fluorescence microscope

ioLight is delighted to announce that today we have learnt that we have been awarded an Innovate UK grant to develop a Low-cost Fluorescence Microscope prototype and trial it with customers. The total project value is £88,994 which will be 70% funded by Innovate UK.

Fluorescence microscopes are used every day in biochemistry, medical research and drug discovery / development. They are used to detect fluorescent markers (beacons) that tag specific features or molecules that scientists want to look at. They allow researchers to look at molecules that would otherwise be too small to see and to watch processes in vivo by following the beacons through the animal.

The problem is that fluorescence microscopes are very expensive, starting from £15,000. This grant potentially allows ioLight to offer a product at a fraction of that price. Such a product could become an everyday utility for bio labs across the world, as well as being used extensively in education.

The image below was taken on ioLight’s proof of concept fluorescence microscope. It is the nematode C.elegans, which has been genetically engineered to produce yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) in its oesophagus. YFP fluoresces under ioLight’s blue illumination so that it looks green.

This grant will work with the crowd funding that ioLight is currently raising, by enabling us to bring forward the development of this valuable fluorescence microscope and thus ultimately launch a product years before it would have otherwise been possible. If you would like to see our investment pitch and potentially invest in this exciting opportunity please visit our page on Crowdcube’s web site – www.crowdcube.com/iolight

C.elegans nematode viewed with the ioLight proof of concept low cost fluorescence microscope

C.elegans nematode viewed with the ioLight proof of concept low cost fluorescence microscope

Portable Microscope for Fish Farming, Aquaculture & Aquariums


Fish suffer from a number of parasites which cause disease. This is a particularly significant issue when there are large numbers of fish kept together, such as on salmon farms in Scotland, Ireland and Norway or tilapia farms in the USA and Far East. The farmers and vets routinely monitor the health of the fish both for the welfare of the fish and to maximise their commercial value – disease limits the growth and value of the fish.

In aquariums, ornamental fish also need to be checked for parasites – some Koi are worth tens of thousands of pounds each and the good health of the fish is greatly prized by the owners.


Microscopes are used to examine scrapes from the fish skin – the vet will look at the mucus and see if any harmful parasites are present, and then be able to treat the fish accordingly. These fish skin scrapes must be examined very soon after they are taken from the fish, so currently vets have to take large, heavy laboratory microscopes with them – this is inconvenient, and since these microscopes are not designed to be frequently transported, they are regularly damaged by vibration from transport and dirt from continually being disassembled and assembled.

In addition to looking for parasites, microscopes are used to monitor plankton and algae in the water – this is important to maintain correct nutrition and avoid certain toxic organisms.

The ioLight microscope is perfect for both of these tasks – it is small and light and has resolution of 1 micron which is sufficient for most fish health tasks. Furthermore the images are displayed on an iPhone or iPad so they are really easy to email to an expert for a second opinion. The ability to record video with the portable microscope is also very useful since with some parasites the way they move is important to determining if they are harmful or not.

CEFAS and Fish Vet Group

Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aqaculture Science (CEFAS) and the Fish Vet Group (part of Benchmark Holdings) have both tested the ioLight portable microscope – below are some images taken using the new wider field of view ioLight microscope (2 mm field of view). This microscope is great for fish work, including for use with the Sedgewick Rafter type counting chambers to count the numbers of plankton etc in water samples.

You can invest in the ioLight microscope at www.crowdcube.com/iolight

Fish gills under ioLight portable microscope

Fish gills under ioLight portable microscope


Plakton in Sedgewick Rafter counting chamber. Taken with the ioLight portable microscope.

Plankton in Sedgewick Rafter counting chamber. Taken with the ioLight portable microscope.

ioLight microscope used to investigate animal parasites in lab

What are the effects of animal parasites?

All animals carry parasites, such as intestinal worms (or helminths). The parasites cause several diseases including gastritis and enteritis, which prevent the animal putting on weight. Some pathological parasites can even kill livestock.

The cost of parasites to farmers is large. The Animal Health drugs market is reported to be worth more than $7.5BN and many of these drugs are targeted on parasites. Companion animals, such as dogs and cats, are wormed regularly by their caring owners. However, parasites such as canine lungworm are killing increasing numbers of pets. This is why Bayer is using ioLight microscopes to promote Advocate®, which prevents infestation.

Reducing drug use

Governments worldwide are now introducing regulations to reduce the use of drugs in the food chain. Vets now have to diagnose intestinal parasites before treating farm animals. This is done by collecting a fecal sample from the back of the animal and sending it off to the lab for microscopic analysis to detect parasite eggs. This usually takes two days after which the vet returns to the farm to treat the animals if required. The ioLight portable field microscope is highly portable and has a wipe clean surface (which is important to vets working behind animals). It is also less expensive than a lab microscope and produces images on a tablet that can easily be shared with the vet’s clients, building that crucial trust between vet and farmer.


Moredun are one of the UK’s foremost labs working on animal parasites. They work with their member farmers and government to devise practical methods of controlling parasites. Moredun carry out standard faecal egg counts as described in a previous article; however they also study the life cycle of the parasites with the aim of increasing understanding to help to devise new methods of control.

Sheep nematodes have a fascinating life cycle – nematode eggs are laid inside sheep and leave the animal in the dung where they hatch into first stage larvae. They then shed their skin and become second stage larvae, remaining in the dung. Their skin is shed once more and they become third stage larvae at which point they leave the dung and move on to the grass where they are eaten by the sheep and the life cycle begins again.

Below is an image taken by Thomas Tzelos of Moredun using the ioLight field microscope. This image shows a sheep parasitic nematode, the brown stomach worm (aka Teladorsagia circumcincta, to give it it’s proper name!) The nematode is in the process of shedding its skin for the second time and becoming the infective third stage larvae.

Sheep nematode worm shedding its sheath. Taken with the ioLight field microscope

Sheep nematode worm shedding its sheath. Taken with the ioLight portable field microscope

The ioLight microscope provides a really convenient and easy to use way of imaging these larvae in the lab without all the complexity and cost of a conventional microscope.

ioLight portable microscope used in cancer research

Cancer Research at Birmingham University

Birmingham University is ranked third in the UK for biosciences and has many great research projects including the cancer research of Dr Farhat Khanim with Prof Chris bunce. Yesterday at the School of Bioscience, Dr Khanim tested the ioLight portable microscope for use in her work trialling potential cancer therapies in a project called The Centre for Accelerated Drug Redeployment.

ioLight portable microscope used in cancer research

Dr Khanim using the ioLight pocket microscope

The clinics in which Dr Khanim is running tests are in remote places, don’t have lab facilities and are staffed by less experienced people. Conventional lab microscopes are too large, fragile and difficult to use in this situation. Portable microscopes are ideal for this work because they solve these issues. Other portable microscopes lack the image quality (resolution) to see inside the cancer cells, and many lack internet connectivity to automatically upload the images to the cloud. This feature allows researchers in Birmingham to immediately examine the images taken in the remote clinics. ioLight’s field micoscope is the perfect solution for Dr Khanim’s work because of the image quality (1 micron resolution) and internet connectivity.

Why is image quality is so important in Dr Khanim’s work?

All cells in our bodies go through a life cycle:  growth – specialise to perform a function – carry out that function – die. It is very important that the cells die, otherwise the body quickly becomes unhealthy. Cancer cells cause harm because they start to grow but then don’t specialise and so don’t  go on to die, but instead keep growing causing a wide range of problems – this is the basic feature of all cancers. Dr Khanim’s research uses the microscope to look at the cancer cells and then exposes the cells to different potential drugs to see if these drugs can induce the process of differentiation in the cell. If the differentiation process can be started, then the cells will ultimately die and so help to ‘heal’ the cancer. The onset of the differentiation process is signified by a change in shape of the cell nucleus – a growing cancer cell has a smooth, round nucleus, but when the cell is stimulated to differentiate by the drugs, the nucleus develops lobes and loses its circular shape.

Using the ioLight handheld digital field microscope, Dr Khanim took the image below of leukaemia cells and you can clearly see that some of the cells have started the differentiation process because the nucleus is starting to develop lobes – this clearly shows that ioLight’s portable microscope is suitable for use in cancer research.

Leukemia cells viewed with the ioLight portable microscope

Leukemia cells viewed with the ioLight portable microscope. A handheld digital field microscope

You can invest in ioLight at www.crowdcube.com/iolight

ioLight launches new pocket microscope with wider field of view

Please support our crowdfunding campaign at www.crowdcube.com/iolight

ioLight pocket microscope with wide field of view

ioLight are pleased to announce the availability of a new version of the portable microscope to complement the original version. The original pocket microscope has a field of view (width of the area viewed by the microscope) of 1 mm, and resolution of 1 micron. This delivers superb quality images to an iPhone or iPad but still folds flat to fit in your jacket pocket, and will remain available for those who need the best resolution.

For some applications including animal and fish parasites, cell culture, electronic component inspection, the objects being viewed are larger than 1 mm, so a larger field of view is required.

To address this need, ioLight have developed a version of the portable microscope which doubles the field of view of to 2 mm. This change also has the advantage of extending the distance from the lens to the object (working distance) but reducing the resolution to approximately 2 microns.

The photo below shows 2 images of a pond water larvae – the left-hand image is taken with the original ioLight microscope with 1 mm field of view and 1 micron resolution, and the right-hand image shows the same larvae imaged with the new 2 mm field of view, 2 micron resolution version. The right-hand image clearly shows how more of the larvae is visible, thus making it easier to identify the larger parasites. The images in this post have been compressed for easy viewing on-line.

Images comparing the standard ioLight pocket microscope with the new wide field of view version

This new microscope looks the same as the original product, but has ‘F.O.V. 2mm’ engraved on the end of the mast to distinguish it from the original version. Other features, such as the 2 illuminators, glass sample stage, rechargeable Li-ion battery and operation with iPhone or iPad remain the same.

If you would like to buy a wide field of view version of the ioLight microscope, please contact us.  You can get a wide field of view version as a reward for investing in our Crowdfunding campaign – www.crowdcube.com/ioLight


The science – Why does increasing the field of view decrease the resolution?

There is some fundamental science behind this. The ioLight pocket microscope captures 5 mega pixel (MP) images which are 2592 x 1944 pixels. To achieve 1 micron resolution each pixel must represent less than 0.5 microns on the object – this requirement is set by Nyquist’s theorem. With an image from an ioLight microscope 2592 pixels wide and a field of view of 1 mm, each pixel equates to approximately 0.4 microns.

In the new version the image is still 5MP and 2592 pixels wide, so with the 2 mm field of view this means each pixel represents approx. 0.8 microns, and so Nyquist’s theorem tell us that the resolution is limited to a little better than 2 microns.

Using Nyquist’s theorem applied to the camera chip like this only tells us what the minimum resolution is – for this resolution to be achieved in practice, the performance of the lens and illuminator has to be such that it also deliver an image with the required resolution. ioLight have carefully matched the lens and illuminator to the camera chip and resolution, such that the minimum resolution predicted by Nyquist’s theorem is achieved for most samples.

Zooming in on the winner of an ioLight portable microscope

Laboratory News recently ran a competition to win an ioLight portable microscope by identifying three laboratory quality images taken with our digitally connected iPhone pocket microscope. The images were published in three successive issues of the magazine and the competition winner was revealed last week. If you want to learn more about the mobile laboratory digital microscopes there is a great video describing it in our crowdfunding pitch here.

The only clues entrants were given were that they were all objects that you find around the house, and the field of view was 1 mm wide. It is amazingly difficult to identify even everyday objects when you look at them in microscopic detail. Even a seemingly boring piece of metal or plastic has amazing detail when you look at it with the high resolution microscope, and if you ever get to look at just a simple leaf, you will be really surprised at all the detail you are normally completely unaware of. Look at the images below, find a similar object around your house and then see if you can work out exactly which part of the object the picture is showing!

The first image was of an embossed number on a credit card:

Embossed number of credit card viewed under microscope. ioLight pocket microscope

The second image was a tea bag:

Tea bag view under microscope. ioLight pocket microscope

And the final image was not a space invaders game, but in fact was an LCD screen on a smart phone:

Smart phone screen view with a microscope. ioLight pocket microscope

The winner was Adrian Rogers, who is already out and about using his field microscope! He is already posting images to social media direct from the iPhone that he uses with the microscope. We liked his tweet of a picture of a ‘lateral flow device’ taken with the microscope, which really shows off the 1 micron resolution. Pregnancy tests are the most common type of lateral flow device, but when we asked if congratulation were in order, Adrian said ‘shhhh that’s how rumours start’ and explained that it was a lateral flow device for food allergen detection!

ioLight microscope competition winner

Micro-plastic particles in cosmetics cause pollution

Micro-plastic particles are often in the news. These particles, much less that 1mm in size, are now proving to be just as much of a problem for marine wild life than ‘traditional’ pollution caused by large plastic items (bags, bottles etc). Unfortunately this new pollution is invisible and you need a field microscope, such as the ioLight to see it. The tiny particles get eaten by fish and other marine life but are so small that they get lodged in the digestive system, or even absorbed into the blood stream. The particles then build up in the fish causing a variety of health problems not only to the fish, but potentially to the animals that eat the fish – including humans!

This pollution is a relatively new phenomenon and is caused by the increasing use of huge quantities of plastic micro-particles in cosmetics, including facial scrubs. The micro-particles are used as a low-cost abrasive to gently exfoliate skin. The facial scrubs are washed off the skin and go down the drain with the waste water. Because these plastic particles are so small – typically between 5-500 microns – they are not removed from the waste water by conventional sewage treatment plants, and so remain in the treated water and are discharged into the sea. Worst of all, the particles then remain floating in the sea for many years because they are made from low-cost conventional plastics that don’t biodegrade.

Using the ioLight high resolution portable microscope to perform field microscopy we can easily see these nasty particles:

Plastic micro-particles in facial scrub taken with the ioLight field microscope

Plastic micro-particles in facial scrub taken with the ioLight field microscope to perform field microscopy.

The picture shows that this facial scrub (made by a very well known cosmetics company) contains several different sizes of rough plastic micro-particles. The large particles are roughly 0.5mm in size and visible to the naked eye, whereas the smallest particles are 5-10 µm and are invisible without a pocket microscope. It is these tiny fragments that are causing so many problems since they are easily eaten by fish and other marine life, but they are too small for the digestive system to excrete and so they build up in the animal causing harm.

There are a number of scientists working to quantify the effects of this new type of pollution including Prof Tamara Galoway at Exeter University, who has bought an ioLight microscope for her work. Several scientific studies have been published including this one from North Carolina State University.

After we looked at my daughter’s facial scrub with the ioLight pocket microscope, we put all of it in the dustbin to go to land fill – the lesser of two evils, when it comes to the polluting effects of these plastic micro-particles.