Australian researchers have developed a 3D-printed "clip-on" that can turn a smartphone into a fully-functional microscope to visualise specimens as tiny as 1/200th of a millimetre.
The "clip-on" microscope, developed by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics at the University of Adelaid requires no external power or light source to function.
Described in the journal Scientific Reports, the device is powerful enough to visualise specimens, including microscopic organisms, animal and plant cells, blood cells and cell nuclei. The "clip-on" has "internal illumination tunnels" that use light from the camera flash to illuminate the sample from behind.
According to lead developer Dr Anthony Orth, this feature is an improvement on other phone-based microscopes that use external LEDs and other power sources that are bulkier and difficult to assemble.
"We have designed a simple mobile phone microscope that takes advantage of the integrated illumination available with nearly all smartphone cameras," Orth said. "Our mobile microscope can be used as an inexpensive and portable tool for all types of onsite or remote-area monitoring," he added.
The microscope requires just one assembly step via a 3D printer and no additional illumination optics. The device also has a dark-field microscopy functionality that allows the user to observe samples that are nearly invisible under conventional bright-field operation.
According to Orth, the technology could benefit developing countries that lack powerful microscopes and could be used to determine water quality, analyse blood samples for parasites or early disease detection.