Remember when math teachers used to say, “you need to know this, because you won’t always have a calculator in your pocket”? And then we got smart phones. Well, soon science teachers won’t be able to say the same thing about microscopes.

Researchers at the University of Houston have developed a new invention that resembles a thicker, but smaller contact lens. This can be attached to most smartphone cameras to act as a microscope, allowing up to 120x magnification, for as little as three cents per lens.

Lens

This is great news for students and scientists. This could provide students all over the world with inexpensive microscopes. Traditional microscopes will cost roughly $50 but could reach prices over $10,000. Not to mention each lens is an additional cost. This new lens can be attached to smartphones that cost as low as $30. Microscopes could be provided to individuals around the world who previously did not have access to them. Traditional microscopes have a much higher magnification but as you can see in the images below, 120x is still very effective.

Lens 2

Top row shows human skin and hair follicle. a) through c) are imaged with an Olympus IX-70 microscope at a magnification of 40, 100 and 200. d) is imaged with a Nokia Lumia 520 smartphone with a PDMS lens. Bottom row shows magnified regions. Image and description via University of Houston

Scientists in remote areas would not need to carry a microscope with them or collect samples to bring back to the lab. A handful of lenses could easily be brought along on the excursion. The added benefit of these being attached to smart phones is the sharing aspect. As long as there is an Internet connection, saving and sharing the captured images can be instantaneous.

The potential for this invention is very exciting. The lenses cannot be purchased yet, but the creators hope to be able to mass produce them shortly.

Can you think of any other benefits of having an inexpensive portable microscope? What’s the next technology that we’ll soon be able to fit in our pockets that will change what teachers are saying now? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


Featured Image – Kent Chen / CC by 2.0

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