After hundreds of years, the most common, basic microscopes still operate by means of the same old hardware: the lens. But what if you could do away with that lens and create a microscope that fits on a cell phone? That’s what researchers led by Aydogan Ozcan at U.C.L.A. have developed. Ozcan recently won an NSF (National Science Foundation) Early Career Development award for his work [see http://bit.ly/d98kXu].
Normal microscopes image cells themselves. But Ozcan’s team is imaging their shadows. Tissue cells and bacteria are semi-transparent—light penetrating through cells causes shadings and reveals texture. Ozcan uses an LED as his light source, creating cellular shadows. An algorithm turns those shadows into an image of the cells.
Millions of people in the developing world suffer because they’re misdiagnosed, or because simple diseases are missed. With this system, a blood sample can be loaded into a small imaging device attached to a cell phone. The cellular image generated from the sample can be transmitted to a central computer in a nearby hospital. The image can be assessed for disease, with the resulting diagnosis sent back to the field in just minutes. Tests of the device begin in Africa this summer.