Feb 20, 2018 | By Benedict

Researchers from the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) have developed a 3D printed add-on clip that turns smartphones into fully functional microscopes. The clip is free to download.

This 3D printed add-on turns a smartphone into a microscope

The idea of a smartphone that turns into a 3D printer may be too good to be true, but a smartphone that turns into a microscope? Courtesy of a 3D printed attachment? They’re already here, and are bringing portable analysis to scientists and medical staff all over the world.

Researchers at the CNBP in Australia have developed a small 3D printed attachment that turns a smartphone into a microscope that is powerful enough to examine specimens as small as 1/200th of a millimeter.

These tiny subjects can include microscopic organisms, animal and plant cells, blood cells, cell nuclei, and more.

The researchers say the 3D printed accessory, which requires no power source and which is freely available to download and share, could be used in remote areas where standalone microscopes are unavailable.

Dr Anthony Orth at work on the portable microscope

“We’ve designed a simple mobile phone microscope that takes advantage of the integrated illumination available with nearly all smartphone cameras,” says Dr Antony Orth, lead developer and CNBP Research Fellow at RMIT University.

Internal illumination channels use light from the camera’s flash to illuminate the sample from behind, a clever feature that eliminates the need for a separate light source.

“Almost all other phone-based microscopes use externally powered light sources while there’s a perfectly good flash on the phone itself,” Orth says. “External LEDs and power sources can make these other systems surprisingly complex, bulky, and difficult to assemble.”

The 3D printed microscope attachment can be quickly connected to a phone, and can be used for both bright-field (bright background) and dark-field (dark background) microscopy techniques.

The 3D printed attachment on its own

(Images: CNBP)

“The added dark-field functionality lets us observe samples that are nearly invisible under conventional bright-field operation such as cells in media,” Orth says. “Having both capabilities in such a small device is extremely beneficial and increases the range of activity that the microscope can be successfully used for.”

The researchers think their 3D printed smartphone microscope accessory could have important implications—especially in remote areas where equipment is scarce or difficult to operate—for applications like water quality analysis, blood samples, environmental observation, early disease detection, and diagnosis.

“Their use in these [remote] areas can be essential—for determining water quality for drinking, through to analysing blood samples for parasites, or for disease diagnosis including malaria,” Orth adds.

Files for the 3D printable microscope add-on can be accessed here. The research has been documented in a paper, “A dual-mode mobile phone microscope using the onboard camera flash and ambient light,” which has been published in Scientific Reports.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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