Researchers Turn A Smartphone Into A Virus-Detecting Microscope

Using a 3-D printer, a team at UCLA created a smartphone plug-in that detects individual particles of a birth defect-causing virus.

Researchers Turn A Smartphone Into A Virus-Detecting Microscope

One of the things people forget about smartphones is that they aren’t just phones or Bejeweled Blitz-playing boxes–they’re sophisticated computing devices with unbelievable amounts of processing power. And, it turns out, they can be used to detect things as small as individual human virus particles.

Using a lightweight microscope USB plug-in, Aydogan Ozcan, an electrical engineering professor at UCLA, has managed to use a phone to detect human cytomegalovirus particles, which cause birth defects such as blindness and brain damage, and significant complications for patients with HIV.

“This cellphone-based imaging platform could be used for specific and sensitive detection of sub-wavelength objects, including bacteria and viruses and therefore could enable the practice of nanotechnology and biomedical testing in field settings and even in remote and resource-limited environments,” Ozcan said in a release. “These results also constitute the first time that single nanoparticles and viruses have been detected using a cellphone-based, field-portable imaging system.”

Ozcan’s team works out of a custom lab at UCLA which is working to empower health care providers in the third world with accurate diagnostic tools which can work off smartphones. Their work is funded by Nokia university research funding, the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation, and other sources. Ozcan has previously been written up in Fast Company for his work turning smartphones into portable medical diagnostic labs.

[Image: Flickr user Milosz1]

About the author

Based in sunny Los Angeles, Neal Ungerleider covers science and technology for Fast Company. He also works as a consultant, writes books, and does other things.