3-D-Printed Smartphone Microscope Could Prevent Disease in Developing Countries

smartphone microscope 3D printing research
The 3-D printable "clip-on" that can turn any smartphone into a fully functional microscope. CNBP

A 3-D-printed device that transforms a smartphone into a fully operational microscope could help diagnose diseases in developing countries.

Researchers from Australia's Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) developed the clip-on microscope for use in remote areas, where standard microscopes are impractical or unavailable.

Unlike other smartphone microscopes developed in the past, the CNBP's device requires no external power or light source to function. The technology is also freely available to anyone wishing to use it, through public 3-D printing files.

"We've designed a simple mobile phone microscope that takes advantage of the integrated illumination available with nearly all smartphone cameras," revealed lead developer Anthony Orth, in a story published on Phys.org. "External LEDs and power sources can make these other systems surprisingly complex, bulky and difficult to assemble."

The microscope works by clipping an additional lens to the camera lens on the smartphone and using the phone's existing flash to illuminate the subject matter. This setup allows for either brightfield imaging (flash on) or dark field imaging (flash off), meaning both plant and mammalian cells can be visualized.

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Orth and his team detailed the clip in research journal Scientific Reports, describing how the smartphone microscope is powerful enough to visualize specimens as small as 1/200th of a millimeter.

These capabilities allow people working in remote areas to use the small microscope to analyze water cleanliness, test blood samples and detect disease at an early stage.

"Powerful microscopes can be few and far between in some regions. They're often only found in larger population centers and not in remote or smaller communities," Orth said.

"Yet their use in these areas can be essential—for determining water quality for drinking, through to analyzing blood samples for parasites, or for disease diagnosis—including malaria."