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Colorful Nanotechnology Holograms Make Cheap Medical Testing In The Field

The latest wave of portable medical testers: devices that project trippy colors in 3-D.

Colorful Nanotechnology Holograms Make Cheap Medical Testing In The Field

There’s no shortage of good portable medical tests these days. But, as far as we know, nothing is as 3-D-groovy as these new devices from England.

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Using a laser, nano-particles in thick liquid, and natural light, the devices make holograms that change color in the presence of specific compounds. Very useful, and colorful too.

The particles of silver are suspended in a hydrogel similar to what makes up a contact lens. When the laser beam passes through, it produces an image that flickers like butterfly wings, making several shapes. The material refracts light at different wavelengths, producing colors that give away the identity of what’s inside.

Ali Yetisen, a PhD student at Cambridge University, emphasizes its simplicity. “If you have a holographics test, you don’t need a reader,” he says. “It’s lightweight and you can put it in your pocket. It’s technology that’s trying to move beyond stickers or strip tests and make something lighter, cheaper, and easier.”

The device gives an immediate, visual sense. For more detailed information, a camera on a phone can assess the exact colors. The technology is now being used in a trial with diabetes patients at Cambridge University’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

Yetisen’s lab is doing more with the same hydrogel material, putting one-centimeter chips under the skin and proposing to put the nano-particles in a special contact lens. Such a device would allow a wearer to see, say, his glucose levels in his eye-view or read them from a smartphone.

That idea is similar to Google’s new glucose-sensing contact lens idea. And, in fact, Yetisen claims his team had the idea first. “Our lab was actually the first to propose this technology. But they picked it up later on via somebody else. And they just put in the press,” he says.

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Find out more about the research here.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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