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A clip-on device turns a simple smartphone into a scientific microscope

Posted February 22, 2018

Remember how much you wanted to have a microscope when you were a child? It seemed like such an incredibly interesting piece of equipment. Now you have a smartphone in your pocket and scientists at the RMIT University have developed a very simple clip-on attachment that turns your phone into a fully functional microscope.

A clip-on design makes the microscope easy to assemble, attach and offers several other benefits. Image credit: RMIT University

It may seem like a toy at first, but this tiny tool can help you see specimens as small as 1/200th of a millimetre – microscopic organisms, animal and plant cells, blood cells, cell nuclei and much more can be visualized using this microscope. Where can you get this microscope? Well, it is free, but you will have to print it yourself. The good news is that it does not require a different power source or some difficult installation. Creators of this attachment are saying that this device will be useful for scientists too in places where bulky and expensive microscopes are not available.

There have been smartphone microscopes before, but they never worked very well. The problem was the lack of a bright light source. This new microscope directs light from the camera flash to illuminate the specimen. Eliminating external light sources makes for a smaller, sleeker and cheaper device. Clip-on design is easy for 3D printing enthusiasts and makes the assembly quite simple, but also has an advantage of enabling two very different microscopy techniques – bright-field and dark-field microscopy. Bright-field technique illuminates the object in bright background and dark-field microscopy illuminates just the specimen, leaving the background dark. Both techniques are very useful and such a simple device allowing for both of them is quite amazing.

What this microscope could be used for? On-site blood tests, water quality monitoring, early disease detection and diagnosis and much more. In some places in the world powerful microscopes are just too scarce. Dr Antony Orth, lead developer, said: “They’re often only found in larger population centres and not in remote or smaller communities. Yet their use in these areas can be essential – for determining water quality for drinking, through to analysing blood samples for parasites, or for disease diagnosis including malaria”. Scientists have tested this clip-on microscope in a variety of settings and are confident in its performance.

This simple device could make many enthusiasts very happy. However, it also solves a problem. In many developing nations smartphones are more common that medical equipment. This could bring some more knowledge to some parts of the world where a real microscope is a very rare sight.


Source: RMIT University

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