Lens to Turn Smartphone into Microscope

The lens can be attached to a smartphone for microscopy applications. (Source: UH)

The lens can be attached to a smartphone for microscopy applications. (Source: UH)

A newly developed optical lens can be placed on an inexpensive smartphone to magnify images by a magnitude of 120×, all for just 3 cents a lens. The lens can work as a microscope, and the cost and ease of using it – it attaches directly to a smartphone camera lens, without the use of any additional device – make it ideal for educational purposes. It also could have clinical applications, allowing small or isolated clinics to share images with specialists located elsewhere, the researchers from Houston stressed.
The lens is made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a polymer with the consistency of honey, dropped precisely on a preheated surface to cure. Lens curvature – and therefore, magnification – depends on how long and at what temperature the PDMS is heated. The resulting lenses are flexible, similar to a soft contact lens, although they are thicker and slightly smaller.
Conventional lenses are produced by mechanical polishing or injection molding of materials such as glass or plastics. Liquid lenses are available, too, but those that aren’t cured require special housing to remain stable. Other types of liquid lenses require an additional device to adhere to the smartphone. The newly developed lens, however, attaches directly to the phone’s camera lens and remains attached, that is it is reusable. For the study, researchers captured images of a human skin-hair follicle histological slide with both the smartphone-PDMS system and an Olympus IX-70 microscope. At a magnification of 120×, the smartphone lens was comparable to the Olympus microscope at a magnification of 100×, they said, and software-based digital magnification could enhance it further.
For now, researchers are producing the lenses manually, using a hand-built device that functions similarly to an inkjet printer. But producing the lenses in bulk will require funding, and the team’s graduate students launched a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo, hoping to raise $12,000 for the equipment. (Source: University of Houston)

References:   Y.-L. Sung et al.: Fabricating optical lenses by inkjet printing and heat-assisted in situ curing of polydimethylsiloxane for smartphone microscopy, J. Biomed. Opt. 20 (2015) 4, 047005; DOI: 10.1117/1.jbo.20.4.047005
Links: University of Houston

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