If you want to get a child interested in the sciences, just let them loose with a microscope. Proper stage microscopes can be pricey, however, and are somewhat tricky for youngsters to use. Fortunately, there are options like the Zoomy Handheld Digital Microscope – it's a simple device that plugs into the USB port of a PC or Mac, then feeds through illuminated, magnified images of whatever it's placed over.

The egg-shaped Zoomy magnifies items by 35 to 53x, and captures 640 x 480 images via a VGA CMOS sensor. Four LED lights provide illumination, and a hand-twistable section on top of the device controls the focus. Power is delivered through its USB cable from the user's computer, so no batteries are necessary.

Two interchangeable head adapters are included in the package, which keep the Zoomy a set distance above its target – the adapters are different lengths, and are used for different-sized objects. Should budding scientists wish to snap a picture or shoot a video of the leaf, bug or what-have-you that they're looking at, they can do so by pressing a button on top of the microscope.

The Zoomy Handheld Digital Microscope is made by Learning Resources, and is available for US$59.99 through the company website.

Consumers do have some choices in the microscopes-for-kids department, however. One notable contender that has been around for a few years is the EyeClops Bionicam. Unlike the Zoomy, it operates untethered from a computer, running on five AA batteries and recording stills and videos on an onboard memory stick. Images can then be downloaded to a computer or viewed on a TV. It magnifies by 100x, 200x or 400x, but costs a little more than the Zoomy – expect to pay around US$118.

... and yes, in the case of either product, adults are allowed to use them too.