You can make a microscope or a spectrometer out of your cell phone for about $20, say researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of California at Davis. Here’s an image contrasting standard microscopy with cell phone microscopy,
There’s a serious note to this activity (from the March 11, 2011 news item on Nanowerk),
With health care costs increasing throughout the world, there is a pressing need for reducing the cost and complexity of biomedical devices. Additionally, with growing demand for high-quality health care in regions of the world where medical infrastructure is below levels found in developed countries, portable devices that can transmit relevant data to remote experts are likely to have a large impact on quantity and quality of care. To this end, several groups have focused on the development of low-cost and rapidly deployable technologies that address common diseases afflicting the third world and common tests performed in both hospital and field environments.
Researchers at UCLA have constructed a modified lensless cell phone that enables holography-based digital microscopy, while researchers at UC Berkeley have constructed a complex objective attachment that also transforms a cell phone into a microscope. Additionally, a patent was recently awarded for the use of a cell phone as a spectrometer. However, there is still a need for more research directed towards utilizing cell-phone cameras to record images or spectra of biological samples.
Dave Mosher’s March 11, 2011 article for Wired magazine offers instructions on how to create the cell phone microscope,
Using tape, rubber and a tiny glass ball, researchers transformed an iPhone into a cheap, yet powerful microscope able to image tiny blood cells. They’ve also added a clinical-grade cellphone spectroscope that might be able to measure some vital signs.
And with a few dollars and some patience, you can do the same to your own phone. (See instructions below.)
“It still amazes me how you can build near-research-grade instruments with cheap consumer electronics,” said physicist Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu of the University of California at Davis, leader of a study March 2 in PLoS ONE. “And with cellphones, you can record and transmit data anywhere. In rural or remote areas, you could get a diagnosis from a professional pathologist halfway around the world.”
Cellphone Microscope – Step 1
Grab any cellphone with a camera, but note models that use touchscreen focusing and/or have manual focus options are best.
Find some thin, dark, rubbery material and poke a small hole in it (less than 1 millimeter in diameter). This can be done using a pin or needle.
Cellphone Microscope – Step 2
Order a 1-millimeter-diameter ball or half-ball lens. One from Edmund Optics costs between $15 and $25.
Note that lenses with larger diameters can be used, but they will provide a smaller magnification.
Cellphone Microscope – Step 3
Carefully mount it to the iris, covering as little of the lens as possible.
Cellphone Microscope – Step 4
Center the iris with the ball lens tucked in the middle over the camera of the cellphone (above).
From black electrical tape, cut out a hole larger than the diameter of the ball lens, but smaller than the diameter of the iris (below [image omitted, see Wired article]).
Cellphone Microscope – Step 5
Attach the iris to the camera body using the electrical tape mask. You may need to adjust the position of the iris to ensure the microscope images are centered in the camera’s field of view.
As with a standard microscope, use plenty of light to illuminate your sample. Liquid samples should be placed between a glass slide and coverslip.
Mosher’s article also provides instructions on how create a cell phone spectrometer. Or you can read the research article on the Public Library of Science website (open access):
Cell-Phone-Based Platform for Biomedical Device Development and Education Applications
Zachary J. Smith, Kaiqin Chu, Alyssa R. Espenson, Mehdi Rahimzadeh, Amy Gryshuk, Marco Molinaro, Denis M. Dwyre, Stephen Lane, Dennis Matthews, and Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu
PLoS ONE, Vol. 6, Issue 3. March 2, 2011. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017150
Sometimes I find it all kind of amazing. I mean, whodathunk you could create a microscope with a phone?