The soft, pliable lens currently magnifies by 15 times, but researchers are creating an improved version that will magnify objects up to 150 times. (Agencies)
The lens sticks to a device's camera without any adhesive or glue and has been built by Thomas Larson, a University of Washington mechanical engineering alumnus.
"A microscope is a tool you can do thousands of different things with and by making it cheaper, portable and able to take pictures, you open so many different possibilities that weren't available before," Larson said.
Larson has formed his own company based in Olympia, Washington. After the initial success of his first model of the Micro Phone Lens he is creating a new lens that will magnify up to 150 times.
Standard laboratory microscopes usually magnify between 50 and 400 times. The lens is about the size of a button and comes in its own carrying case. Users stick it flat onto a smartphone camera lens, turn on an external light source such as a lamp, then run the device in camera mode.
Moving the device closer or farther from the object brings it into focus. Several other products exist that can adapt a smartphone to be used as a microscope, but they are significantly more expensive, and the attachments are heavy or require permanent adhesives.
Larson developed his smartphone lens while working in the lab of Nathan Sniadecki, a UW associate professor of mechanical engineering. The lab needed a miniaturised lens that could work with a cellphone as a microscope, and Larson took on the project.
The lens he developed is now as powerful as the research microscopes used in the lab, Sniadecki said. Larson is now creating the 150X lens, which will be available this summer. He manufactures the lenses at his lab space in Olympia and is working with an optical mold-making company to design more sophisticated optics for this new model.
Larson said he hopes the new design will be useful in disease diagnosis overseas, and in the increasing number of classrooms where iPads are the norm but microscopes still come at a premium.
The soft, pliable lens currently magnifies by 15 times, but researchers are creating an improved version that will magnify objects up to 150 times.