Now any phone with a camera can become a microscope.
Researchers at the University of Houston have developed a special liquid polymer that, once heated and deposited on a cool surface, curves into the shape of a lens. It’s a bit like a contact lens and it fits neatly onto the front of a phone’s camera. It costs just one penny per time, and yet can magnify a viewfinder down to as small as one micrometer. That’s sufficient to work with skin or tissue, and even some larger cells.
“It could be used in any sort of field applications where either a [traditional] microscope is too heavy or expensive,” says Wei-Chuan Shih, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at U.H. “We show that the imaging is not bad compared to scientific-grade microscopes. It could be useful in resource-limited scenarios, for sure.”
In a paper discussing the project, Shih and graduate students Yu-Lung Sung and Chia-Hsiung Lee demonstrate the polymer bead with a Nokia Lumia 520, a phone that costs about $50 retail. The polymer doesn’t stick permanently to the camera, but instead attaches sufficiently–though not so much that it can’t be removed– to capture an image. To make an image, you simply click within the phone’s normal camera or video.
Shih’s team has created a Kickstarter campaign that’s looking to raise $5,000. And they’ve set up a business to commercialize the work. “As a company, we will create more serious products and applications, not just selling the lens,” Shih says.