How to turn your smartphone into a microscope

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Despite technological advancements, the smartphone and the microscope have traditionally been two separate entities! But with new 3D printing technology, Australian researchers have developed a clip-on that transforms your handy smartphone into a fully functioning microscope, much to the delight of your inner science geek.

While transforming your smartphone into a microscope is nothing new, with apps available since 2012, this new clip-on takes it a step further.

Developed at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, it requires no external light or power source, simply using the smartphone’s current technology to power the microscope, meaning aside from the clip-on itself, you don’t need anything else to explore the microscopic world.

“The beauty of our design is that the microscope is useable after one simple assembly step,” said lead developer Dr. Anthony Orth. “Almost all other phone-based microscopes use externally powered light sources while there’s a perfectly good flash on the phone itself.”

“External LEDs and power sources can make these other systems surprisingly complex, bulky and difficult to assemble.”

What can the microscope be used for?

Powerful enough to see specimens as small as 1/200th of a millimeter, Dr. Orth says the technology has huge potential for remote locations or for those who work in the field without easy access to an actual microscope.

“Water quality, blood samples, environmental observation, early disease detection and diagnosis – these are all areas where our technology can be easily used to good effect,” he said.

Another differentiating factor is that the clip-on enables both bright-field and dark-field techniques. Bright-field microscopy is where a specimen is observed on a bright background, whereas dark-field microscopy shows the specimen illuminated on a dark background, enabling users to fully dive in and analyse specimens regardless of the conditions.

The best part about this though? It’s completely free. Available on the Centre of Excellence’s website, the files for the 3D printing are freely available, giving scientist-enthusiasts something to get excited about.

The technology has already been tested by Dr. Orth and his team, with specimens from cattle and other cell structures analysed and inspected, with the technology looking to be utilised the world over.

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