Back in November, the New York Times covered the invention by UCLA electrical engineer Aydogan Ozcan of a $10 microscope that will work with a standard cell phone and could be used to detect water-borne pathogens. In addition to being about the coolest phonecam ever, it’s also important because in many parts of the developing world, cell phones are more common than safe drinking water.
This month’s The Scientist covers Ozcan’s invention in depth. Like ferinstance:
[The microscope] works by shining light from a tiny LED bulb through a blood or water sample loaded into the side of the phone. The light bounces off cells or microorganisms in the sample and scatters, creating holograms that are akin to shadows. The camera’s image sensor records an image of the hologram, and Ozcan’s device rapidly reconstructs that information into something that looks like a micrograph, showing cellular and subcellular details, such as the nucleus of a cell or projections on a cell’s surface. His device is even sensitive enough to discern different types of cells that look similar, such as granulocytes, monocytes, and lymphocytes, white blood cells that appear identical except for their differently shaped nuclei.
Because it’s portable and inexpensive thanks to its lack of lenses, LUCAS could be used to diagnose disease, check water quality, and monitor health in places like sub-Saharan Africa or rural India, where adequate medical facilities and resources are scarce. With a cell phone microscope, field workers could scan blood samples for malaria or TB parasites and track the health of HIV patients by doing CD4 cell counts quickly and easily, beaming the images to health professionals miles away.
Ozcan demonstrates some of the basics in the UCLA video above, too.