Smartphones to acquire the power of an electron microscope

The magical powers of a smartphone are continually being discovered by the day. Not so long ago we told you of a procedure you can follow to turn your smartphone into a simple microscope for your home science laboratory. The simple home made microscope that uses the power of your smatphone camera can have a magnification of up to x400.

But high end physicists have come up with a device that can make the smartphone view objects as small as 100 nanometers in diameter. How small is such an object? One nanometer is one billionth smaller than one meter so imagine an object one billion times smaller than the length of a typical table, then multiply that tiny miniature object by 100. Example of such an object is the  human cytomegalovirus that is associated with infections on several organs. HCMV is well known for causing defects on the unborn including deafness and brain damage.


OzcanNanoCameraTo turn a smartphone into a powerful microscope a kin to an electron microscope, Aydogan Ozcan, a professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and his team created an imaging system that attaches to a smartphone to detect objects as small as the HCMV. “”It is the first time that single nanoparticles and viruses have been detected using a cellphone-based field-portable imaging system,” said Aydogan. “”This cellphone-based imaging platform could be used for specific and sensitive detection of sub-wavelength objects, including bacteria and viruses and therefore could enable the practice of nanotechnology and biomedical testing in field settings and even in remote and resource-limited environments,”

The left image shows the various parts of the “microscope”. The beauty of this innovation is that it now enables studies investigating nanoparticles especially in the medical fields to be done even at remote areas that wouldn’t be able to acquire a more powerful but expensive microscopes like the scanning electron microscope.

To test the performance of the microscope, Aydogan and his team were able to detect nanoparticles that are specially marked fluorescent beads made of polystyrene; as small as 90–100 nanometers.

The smartphone based “electron microscope” works by  illuminating a sample under investigation at an angle of about 75 degrees. The imaging device attached to the smartphone is made of  a color filter, an external lens and a laser diode that does the illumination. The casing of the imaging assembly is made from a 3D printed material and together with all the components weighs only about 220 grams. The technology looks simple enough to be affordable to any willing buyer.


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