The US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has come up with an inexpensive accessory for your smartphone that will transform it into a microscope hence allowing you to capture microscopic images. The immediate use is for responders who can take pictures of suspicious substances found on any site and can have them analysed in 10-15 minutes while they are still at site.
The device comprises of a 3D printed plastic clip that comes with a small glass sphere. The sphere can be purchased online with ease and costs about one cent. These spheres are mostly used while constructing reflective airport runway markings. Scientists have used such spheres for microscopic purposes for quite some time now, however, their incorporation was a bit awkward in a number of ways, and primarily speaking the magnification achieved was low or quite difficult to achieve alignment with the imaging system.
Looking at the PNNL microscope it can be seen that the product is compact, easily aligns with the phone’s camera lens while being able to magnify objects by 1,000x. This much magnification suffices for showing items that include the anthrax spores. Lab has also released 350x and 100x versions of the spheres. The 350x version can take images of parasites in blood samples or microbes in water while the 100x versions are suitable for classroom purposes.
The cost of a single sphere along with the required plastic clip is less than a dollar. The lab is making the 3D printer files available for free to all those who want them while links have been provided as to where to purchase the glass sphere. The device works quite well with iPhone, but can also be used with many other smartphones as well.
The added bonus is that the device can be thrown after it was used for imaging hazardous substances.