Four University of Houston researchers say ordinary phone cameras can be turned into microscopes comparable with a US$15,000 device, by using lenses worth three cents apiece .
Yu-Lung Sung, Jenn Jeang, Chia-Hsiung Lee, and Wei-Chuan Shih created a budget lens able to hone in on human skin to a magnification level of 120 using a Nokia Lumia 520 smartphone which hit the market in 2013 as a budget offering.
The boffins created the lens from Polydimethylsiloxane, a honey-like substance that is easier and cheaper to build than existing alternatives, and is almost as effective as a traditional microscopes.
It is the equivalent of an Olympus IX-70 microscope currently selling used for above $10,000 and sold retail for $28,000 machine in 2008.
They say the lens which can be attached to phone cameras using an reusable adhesive is ideal for students and researchers who lack access to microscopes.
"I put it on my phone, and it turns out it works," Shih says, adding that the work involves a "$20 phone and a 1 cent lens”.
The researchers have kicked off an Indiegogo fund raising campiagn to manufactuer the units commercially, hitting $3000 of $12000 at the time of writing.
In the paper Fabricating optical lenses by inkjet printing and heat-assisted in situ curing of polydimethylsiloxane for smartphone microscopy they say the lens is produced using an inkjet printer.
Top row shows human skin and hair follicle. a) through c) are imaged with an Olympus IX-70 microscope at a magnification of 40, 100 and 200. d) is imaged with a Nokia Lumia 520 smartphone with a PDMS lens. Bottom row shows magnified regions
"After mixing and vacuum bubble removal, an inkjet printing system was set up by incorporating a computer programmable syringe pump with the ability to print with PDMS ink, suspended on a semiautomated stage placed a constant and controlled height above a temperature-controllable hotplate," the boffins wrote.
Other budget do-it-yourself microscopes exist. One popular construction uses a stand worth about $10 to enable a claimed 375 magnification with phones including an iPhone 4S.
Last year medicos designed a rough-looking iPhone microscope that chalked up a 70 percent accuracy rate at parasite identification. ®