Turn Your Smartphone Into a Cheap, Powerful Microscope

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If you’re a member of CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) then this is definitely for you. You can now turn your smartphone into a science lab.  A low cost device, a 3D printed clip and glass sphere turn into a powerful yet inexpensive microscope.

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Developers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) say that when this device is placed over the camera lens of your cell phone or tablet, the microscope is not thicker than a phone case, it lines up easily with the phone’s camera lens and it magnifies objects by 1,000x. It’s designed to fit most cell phone brands, including iPhone 4 and 5, Galaxy S3 and S4 phones, and iPads.

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A major reason for the development of this technology was the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s need for rapid bio detection technologies. According to the PNNL development team, the lens of the microscope is produced using inexpensive glass spheres traditionally used for reflective pavement markings at airports.  The glass spheres have been used in the past to produce microscope lenses before but this device is practical because of its small size, high magnification, and low cost.

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The magnification achieved with this device can detect tiny anthrax spores and plaque cells. Less intense versions are also available for magnification of things adequate to identify parasites in blood samples or protozoa in drinking water.

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Janine Hutchison, a microbiologist at PNNL says that the applications for this device are quite broad. Health care workers, public health and safety sectors, human and veterinary medicine are all some fields this device could be helpful in.  Another very important field is the field of education where the lowest magnification version can enable students to investigate items like salt grains and flower petals in much greater detail.

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The combined cost of a single sphere and the required plastic is less than one dollar which makes it disposable after being used to image hazardous substances. You’ll need to supply your own smart phone and lab coat, and instantaneously the world is your laboratory.