Dr. Steve Lee, at the Australian National University Research School of Engineering, along with Dr. Tri Phan, of Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, have developed a novel method for fabricating high-powered lenses that can turn your smartphone into a high-resolution microscope.
To produce the lenses, the researchers squeeze liquid droplets of silicon gel onto a microscope cover slip and flip the slip over, allowing gravity to form a naturally parabolic shape.
Lee’s lenses don’t require the same grinding and processing technique as traditional glass lenses. The droplets, with magnifying power of up to 160 times and 4 micron image resolution, are formed from the same material used for contact lenses, which means that they are scratch resistant and won’t break. Moreover, each lens costs less than a cent to make.
To test out the applicability of their lenses Dr. Lee and his team worked with Dr. Phan to create a 3D-printed frame to hold the lens, some LED lights, and a coin battery. When attached to a Nexus 4 smartphone, the device becomes a de facto microscope. The potential uses for the smartphone microscope are endless when used with the appropriate apps. For instance, doctors in remote areas might be able to diagnose illnesses on the fly. According to Dr. Phan this is a whole new era of miniaturisation and portability – image analysis software could instantly transform most smartphones into sophisticated mobile laboratories.