The ROTAforMI: a RObotic TAble for Microscopy

I have recently published another STEM oriented robotic project. It is the ROTAforMI device, a versatile robotic device for controlling the position and orientation of a microscope slide using four degrees of freedom. This prototype is a complementary development of the idea behind the Roto-microscope project. It was inspired by related projects of servo motors-controlled micromanipulators and 3D micro scanners.

The device is entirely 3D printed and is actioned by four small servos controlled by one Arduino Nano microcontroller. The device can be controlled manually using two micro joysticks (and possibly also automatically via a programmed sequence of movements). In addition, a Bluetooth remote can take snapshots with a smartphone’s camera.

The device is made modular to use for different purposes. For example, removing the Y-stage should be sufficient to fit it under a stereomicroscope. Although the electronic interface is quite bulky, the device is simple to assemble and use, and the controlling program is still in its early stages. The ultimate goal is to use it for automatic photo stacking or 3D image reconstruction. Still, we are sure there are other possible applications in which small motion in 3D dimensions and a rotation of the observation stage can be helpful.

This is a prototype, and there is a lot of space for improvements. So we hope you like it, and constructive comments and suggestions are always welcome!

If you want trying to build one, please follow to the link given above.

Modelling and Designing of Birds Eggs for 3D Printing (Easter 2022)

A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid.

JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit

Easter 2022 is at the door and the occasion for the traditional appointment to talk about eggs and their mathematical shapes. This year with the help of my sons, we have created the following Instructable for STEM education:

The project aims to show how to use a simple mathematical model to generate the 3D form of real bird eggs utilizing several parameters. The 3D egg models can be saved as an STL file and then printed using a 3D printer. The printed egg can be painted or modified with a CAD program to add functionalities for egg-based gadgets or toys. An example of a modification to create a LED decorated egg is explained in detail.

More recently for fun, I have published another one using the same approach:

The egg modelling topic has been covered in previous article, and the interested reader can complement the information in the Instructable with other information provided in the following articles:

The Instructable gives the possibility to 3D print and modifies the 3D shape of bird eggs. It can be used for research, teaching and fun. I hope you will enjoy it, and constructive comments and suggestions are always welcome!




Come Creare Modelli Tridimensionali di Conchiglie e altri Molluschi

Questo articolo è la traduzione di un recente instructable in lingua inglese creato in collaborazione con mio figlio Leonardo sul sito Instructables teachers ( Sull’argomento ho già scritto un altro breve articolo (anche questo in lingua inglese) nel passato, tuttavia, visto il considerable interesse ricevuto dall’instructable ( che ha vinto anche un premio runner-up nella competizione “made with math”) ho deciso di farne una traduzione per i lettori italiani del mio blog.

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Exploring the Lotus Effect using Candle Soot

I recently published an new Instructable that is the results of some home experiments that I did some time ago (see also my previous article).

It shows how to prepare these simple surfaces and make some interesting observations with them. Like the previous two Instructables, my family help me a lot in preparing it in the very short time of one day. So a big thank you to my wife, Francesco, and, in particular, to Leonardo.

Hydrophobic and super-hydrophobic surfaces are ubiquitous in the natural world. You do not need to search much to find good examples: just walk out in your garden after a light rain and look at the plenty of weed leaves pearly decorated by water droplets. If you have an ornamental pond, you may have even the chance to see floating better examples of plants having a super-hydrophobic surface. Notably, wettability in Nature is present in a different form that subtle differences in the function and effect on the water droplets. Plant leaves need to keep their surfaces clean for light-harvesting efficiency. A water repellent leaves let water drops roll over its surface and mechanically remove dust particles. This effect was first noted on leaves of the Lotus plant, and for that reason, it is also called the Lotus effect.

Several novel technological materials exploit the properties of super-hydrophobic. For example, in your kitchen, Teflon pans are used to avoid sticking food residuals and therefore easily cleaned. Your car windows are teated to let the water easily roll over the surface. 

Candle soot is an artificial material that is easy to produce and can be used to demonstrate some of the properties of the (super)-hydrophobic surface existing in nature.

The Mighty Roto-Microscope

I am happy to announce our second Instructable project. Like the first one, it was a long-standing idea that was rolling in my mind for a long time. The current limited travelling mobility due to the COVID offered more time to develop this idea during my vacation. In a joyful collaboration with my son Leonardo, we managed to realize this useful device in a very short time.

This project aimed to develop a device that integrated with a cheap USB microscope allows taking 3D pictures of small samples. The project is meant to be an education STEM activity to learn using Arduino, 3D image reconstruction, and 3D printing by creating a useful piece of equipment for doing some exciting science activity. Like my previous project, it is also a moment to share good and educative time with my family and in particular, my elder son Leonardo that helped me in creating this instructable and evaluating the device as an enthusiastic STEM student. This time, also my lovely wife helps me to make a video of the assembly of the equipment!

The roto-microscope allows controlling the position of a simple USB microscope around the sample. This allows to take accurate pictures from different angles and not just from the top as in the traditional microscopes. This is not a new idea as there are professional microscopes. However, this device means to be affordable for a student and still provides some similar results and a lot of fun in building it. Other similar and excellent OpenSource projects are available (see, for example, the Ladybug microscope, the Lego microscope, and the OpenScan project), our project adds an additional option and I hope that you enjoy making it as we did!

If you find it an interesting device then instructions on how to build it are on our Instructable.

The Magic Sand Slicer

We have published for the first time a project on Instructables: a website specialised in publishing interesting DIY projects by an effervescent community of makers and educators.

The project is called the Magic-Sand Slicer and it is an education project initially conceived as a STEM activity to learn using Arduino, a 3D printer, and some exciting science. It is also a collaboration with my son Leonardo who helped me in evaluating the device as a STEM student. We have learned a lot together, and we want to share the results of this long journey. This project aims to create a device that automatically makes sections of a cylinder of easy-to-cut coloured material. That can be used for practising 3D image reconstruction of the coloured blogs hidden in the column. The so-called Magic-Sand (c), also known with other trademarks names, becomes suitable for this experiment.
What is the point of making pictures of thin layers of sand and then reconstructing it digitally? Is it just for the fun of it? It varies on who is using it. However, students and teachers from different disciplines (e.g. geology, biology, medical) can find it a helpful education device to practice with image reconstruction from the serial sections. It could also be of interest to a geologist interested in sedimentary material plasticity to study rock and the secrets it beholds, or to a process, engineering to emulate the packing of fine granular materials. Finally, an artist can make a fantastic program of unravelling magic forms generated by packing coloured sand. 

I was surprised that the project got so much interest in a very short time and I thank the Instructable community for their nice welcome! If you like to know more about the project (and try it!) then you can read our instructable here.

I also just realized that the Instructable was reviewed on the Arduino blog site by the Arduino team!

Modelling Forms in Nature: Easter Chocolate Eggs 2021

This year, your Highness, we will be featuring square eggs.
Peter Carl Fabergé

The Easter Math Bunny is back again, and he is talking again of … eggs!

Two years ago, I ended my blog with a question, “What about chocolate egg shapes?” It is now the time to give some answer. If you have read my previous articles, I and many scientists and artists have been caught by the shape of the bird eggs. Several models have been proposed to reproduce the silhouette of bird eggs. Baker [1] proposed a simple two-parameters mathematical model based on projection geometry that was revealed to be versatile and accurate in producing the shapes of a large variety of bird eggs [1]. More recently, the model was used to perform a systematic and comparative study of the shape of 1400 bird eggs species [2].

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The Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinalis) and OpenCV

The dandelion’s pallid tube
Astonishes the grass,
And winter instantly becomes
An Infinite Alas —

The tube uplifts a signal Bud
And then a shouting Flower, —
The Proclamation of the Suns
That septulture is o’er.

– Emily Dickinson

The yellow flowers and the delicate and beautiful inflorescence of Dandelion catch the attention of both romantic and curious souls. The aerial consistency of the fine silk decorated seeds that glance to the sunlight as crystalline material became the favorite subject of the inspired photographers and the toy of amused children. Besides the grace of its forms, other interesting and the curious secret is hidden in its phloem fluids. In fact, if you cut one of the stems of the plant, a milky, sticky liquid will flow out of the wound resection. This latex is going to polymerize at 30-35 oC in a few minutes in a yellow-brown quite solid mass. Around the year 1982, I have annotated this observation but I could not find in my later notes further follow-ups study on the topics. It was a casual observation but I didn’t know at that time that this latex is indeed very useful. A variety of the Taraxacum (Taraxacum koksaghyz, Russian Dandelion) was used in Russian and American to produce a replacement of the natural rubber from Brazil during WWII that was in shortage because of the war. Nowadays, many studies are in progress to exploit the lattice of Taraxacum and also Taraxacum brevicorniculatumas a convenient replacement of the rubber plant lattice. A recent study has shown the presence of rubber particles in the lattice of these plants in 32% proportion composed prevalently by poly(cis-1,4-isoprene) at >95% of purity ( The brownish lattice condensate that, as I reported in my note, forms after exposing for several minutes the latex to the air, is caused by the presence of the polyphenol oxidase (PPO) enzyme that produces the fast coagulation of the latex by catalyzing the oxidation of polyphenols. Genetic engineer the plant, it is possible to reduce the amount of PPO in the latex making economically competitive the use of this resource for the production of latex.

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Modelling Natural Shapes: (Easter) Eggs 2020

One year ago, I wrote an article about the modelling of the egg shapes, promising at one point to come back on the topics. A next step in studying eggs shapes is to look to real one or a copy of it. A happy occasion for experimenting with the model using three-dimensional graphics and 3d Printing! That is a natural indeed step: take half of the symmetric curve representing the egg shape


where T and \lambda are two parameters, and rotate it around the central axis

\begin{aligned} x'&=&x\\ y' &=&y*cos(\theta) \\ z' &=& y*sin(\theta) \end{aligned}

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Modelling Patterns and Forms in Nature II: (Easter 2019) Eggs

When you start with a portrait and search for a pure form, 
a clear volume, through successive eliminations, you arrive 
inevitably at the egg. Likewise, starting with the egg and 
following the same process in reverse, one finishes with 
the portrait.


Easter is coming and what better time to talk about eggs!

During my recent mathematical explorations of natural shapes and forms, my attention has been catched by the shape of birds eggs. In the interesting book by J. Adams, A Mathematical walk in Nature [1], you can find a short review on the different mathematical modelling approach to describe the shape of an egg. Among them, the geometrical one by Baker [2] is revealed one of the most versatile as it can very accurately reproduce the shapes of a large variety of bird eggs [2]. More recently, the model was used to perform a systematic and comparative study of the shape of bird eggs. This study, published on Science magazine [3], a two-dimensional morphological space defined by the parameters of the Baker’s equation, has been used to show the diversity of the shape of 1400 species of birds. Combining these information with a mechanical model and phylogenetics information, the authors have shown that egg shape correlates with flight ability on broad taxonomic scales. They concluded that adaptations for flight may have been critical drivers of egg-shape variation in birds [3].

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