I know that title will strike fear into the heart of most pre-regs (and optoms, for that matter). I’m from a physics background and yes, I spent my youth building cars with my dad but I’m going to try to convince you that it’s not that difficult to take an idea and make it into reality.

I’ve built some interesting stuff in the last few years: a Meibography system, a blink rate detector and a slit lamp adapter for my smartphone. I’ve even had a go at making my own frosted occluders (after balking at the price of them on-line).

When I was presenting my inventions at the CooperVision Student Summit a couple of years ago, I got the nicest piece of feedback from one of my fellow summer students. She said that, during my talk, she felt as if she could build something herself. I’d demystified it. I drew laughs when I mentioned eBay and Argos as my suppliers and I told them not just about the successes but about my failures.

That’s the first thing I want to say: nothing works first time (or second time, or third time sometimes). Developing something, even with “a plan” is a trial and error process and it’s very easy to become frustrated.

I had to learn some new skills for my projects and guess where I looked? YouTube, eHow, Internet forums. I also asked everyone I knew for help – you won’t believe how many of your friends have weird, niche knowledge and skills.

Anyway I plan on talking you through my blink rate detector in my next post, in broad terms, but I will also post a blog on building a mount to turn your smartphone into a slit lamp camera. Some very smart ophthalmologist put the plans on the internet and it works. In fact, I’m going to make three (one for my new phone and two for my iPhone toting supervisors). If you want to make one too there are a few things you’ll need so you can get a hold of these before I post the “how to”:

1) cheap phone case for your phone – one of the ones that covers the back only. Make sure it’s not too bendy (no silicon ones) as it needs to keep the phone in position and have some stuff attached to it by glue.

2) glue. Superglue should work for this, as would Bostick or UHU.

3) EVA foam pads. This is the point where you’ll all go: “Michelle, where on Earth will I get that?”

Well, the simple answer is: the internet. eBay or your local foam shop (like Kayfoam) should have it. It’s a bit stronger than high density foam so make sure it’s EVA you are buying (this is the stuff they use inside ski boots, floor mats for gyms/nurseries and things that need to take an impact).

Ideally, you should get 1cm thick foam in a 20cm square (or larger) sheet. The size of sheet you need really depends on how confident you are about getting it right first time. I’d get enough to do two mounts (and, if you do get it right first time then, well done, use your spare foam to make one for a friend).

4) a scalpel or small, very sharp knife. Again, you can probably borrow one of these or get it on-line.

5) figure out the focal length of your phone. Google it. It should be between 0.3cm to 1cm.

Anyway, I’m in Birmingham tonight and tomorrow for a mock OSCE course so I’ll update about that tomorrow, on the train home.

Any questions about the slit lamp adapter? Post them in the comments.