Current Weather
The Spy FM

My Smartphone Is A Microscope. What Can Yours Do?

Filed by KOSU News in Health.
October 11, 2011

I lied. My smartphone isn’t a microscope — yet. But there are some smart physicists who want to make that transformation possible very soon, if not for you and me at first, then for doctors who don’t have easy access to laboratories.

There are a lot of ways to trick out your smartphone. And if you’re an eager Apple fan, the brand-new iPhone 4S will come with fancy apps that use its increasingly sophisticated camera to scan and image the world. A smartphone camera lens can measure objects, help translate words, and even tell you whether your potato chips have been caught in a food safety recall.

But Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu and colleagues at the Center for Biophotonics, Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis say a smartphone’s camera lens can also serve as a microscope and a spectrometer, which both could be pretty handy for looking at blood samples.

A few years ago, Wachsmann-Hogiu was thinking about creating tools to help doctors do tests right at the site where they’re caring for patients, something called “point-of-care testing.”

He’d heard about bioengineer Daniel Fletcher’s work developing a low-tech mobile microscope called CellScope. But Wachsmann-Hogiu was interested in making something even simpler. And he noticed that when water droplets formed on the top of his iPhone camera, they magnified the image. So he took a tiny lens — just 1 millimeter in diameter — and attached it to the phone to try to get a similar effect.

“With that we were able to record great microscopic images,” he tells Shots. His team set out to test a range of lenses between 1 and 3 millimeters that would get different magnification. The smaller the lens, the more it magnifies.

“We found that the small lenses are good for microscopy of blood cells while the larger lenses could be good for skin and dermatological applications,” he says.

A smartphone camera lens can also do cool tricks with light and blood, with the help of a simple spectrometer attachment to the phone. Wachsmann-Hogiu’s smartphone-friendly spectrometer involves a short plastic tube covered at both ends with black electrical tape.

The tape has narrow slits that allow beams of light from a blood sample, for example, to enter and exit the tube. This grating smears, or spreads, the light into a spectrum of colors that doctors could use like a fingerprint to identify various molecules.

In a medical setting, the smartphone spectrometer could be used to measure oxygen levels in the blood. Levels that are too low or too high can be a clue that something else is wrong with the heart or many other organs.

So does it matter what kind of smartphone you use for these new tools? Wachsmann-Hogiu says no. In fact, even the simplest smartphone camera with 1 to 2 megapixels should be sufficient. The project’s next phase is testing in the clinical setting in rural areas of the U.S. where laboratories are few are far between.

Wachsmann-Hogiu and colleagues will present their findings at the Optical Society of America’s annual meeting next week. They also published a paper on their work in the journal PLoS One earlier this year. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

9PM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

View the program guide!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center