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Tape + Tube + Lens + iPhone = Imaging Device

October 4, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging
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Using a plastic tube, a tiny glass sphere, a bit of rubber, and some tape, a team of researchers at the University of California, Davis, transformed an iPhone into a medical-quality imaging device.

The glass sphere, a finely ground 1-millimeter ball lens that was stuck into a piece of rubber and taped over the phone’s camera lens, made the iPhone into a microscope capable of resolutions down to 1.5 microns. Total cost: maybe $40, mostly for the lens.

The initial version was even cheaper, according to Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu, PhD, leader of the research:

We started with a drop of water on the camera’s lens. The water formed a meniscus, and its curved surface acted like a magnifying lens. It worked fine, but the water evaporated too fast.

Dr. Wachsmann-Hogiu, a physicist, is, among other things, facilities director at the Center for Biophotonics, Science and Technology at UC Davis. He was quoted in an Optical Society of America (OSA) news release via EurekAlert. The researchers are scheduled to present their findings at the OSA Annual Meeting, Frontiers in Optics 2011, which will take place in San Jose, California, on October 16–20.

Turning the phone into a spectrometer was even easier than the microscope trick. The researchers used a short plastic tube covered at both ends with black electrical tape. Narrow slits cut into the tape allow only parallel (more or less) beams of light to enter or exit the tube, thus spreading, or smearing, the light into a spectrum of colors that reveal the chemical signature of whatever material is being studied. The iPhone’s camera reads the spectrum.

The researchers think the simple spectrometer could measure the amount of oxygen in the blood and spot chemical markers of various diseases.

Neither the microscope nor the spectrometer can match lab equipment for image sharpness, obviously. But the researchers think the quality is good enough for use in science classes—or for use by health care workers in developing nations, where imaging equipment of any kind is scarce or nonexistent. The phones can immediately transmit the images to colleagues around the world for analysis and diagnosis.

Pretty amazing for something pieced together from such low-tech odds and ends.

And, yes, the researchers have heard lots of MacGyver jokes.

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