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Turning a Cell Phone Into a Microscope 50

stupendou writes with this excerpt from the New York Times: "Microscopes are invaluable tools to identify blood and other cells when screening for diseases like anemia, tuberculosis and malaria. But they are also bulky and expensive. Now an engineer, using software that he developed and about $10 worth of off-the-shelf hardware, has adapted cellphones to substitute for microscopes." But not based on optical magnification: the article explains that Aydogan Ozcan, a UCLA assistant professor of electrical engineering, has combined the wireless transmission abilities and imaging sensors now typical in wireless phones to make the phones capable of detecting cell abnormalities and more by capturing wave interference patterns from body fluids — like blood — and sending them on for analysis.

Update 20091108 15:03 GMT by timothy: Dave Bullock mentions this gallery he shot last year for Wired showing how a phone is hacked to add microscope abilities. "The new version looks a bit more polished, to say the least," he writes.
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Turning a Cell Phone Into a Microscope

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  • by slifox ( 605302 ) * on Sunday November 08, 2009 @05:52AM (#30020162)
    Here are some more details from the abstract of a relevent paper:

    A high-throughput on-chip imaging platform that can rapidly monitor and characterize various cell types within a heterogeneous solution over a depth-of-field of ~4mm and a field-of-view of ~10 cm^2 is introduced. This powerful system can rapidly image/monitor multiple layers of cells, within a volume of ~4 mL all in parallel without the need for any lenses, microscope-objectives or any mechanical scanning.

    In this high-throughput lensless imaging scheme, the classical diffraction pattern (i.e., the shadow) of each micro-particle within the entire sample volume is detected in less than a second using an opto-electronic sensor chip. The acquired shadow image is then digitally processed using a custom developed ‘‘decision algorithm’’ to enable both the identification of the particle location in 3D and the characterization of each micro-particle type within the sample volume.

    Through experimental results, we show that different cell types (e.g., red blood cells, fibroblasts, etc.) or other micro-particles all exhibit uniquely different shadow patterns and therefore can be rapidly identified without any ambiguity using the developed decision algorithm, enabling high-throughput characterization of a heterogeneous solution. [] []

    This topic was also covered a few months ago -- with better results, but using actual lenses instead of just the bare CCD sensor: []

  • Star Trek..... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 3seas ( 184403 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @06:12AM (#30020234) Homepage Journal

    Tricorders ..... as we do already have the flip open communicator in standard use.

    Hmmm.... has any cell phone company even thought to license and/or make a functional cell phone of the replica of the Star Trek communicator of the original series? Or would that be like to Galaxy Quest .....

    • Were modeled on star trek communicators.

      We're way beyond star trek now in terms of personal communication technologies.

      By modifying the detector and lenses on modern phones you could possibly perform IR, visible and UV spectroscopy which would let you do many of the things a tricorder was able to. Other than the detectors it's just software.

      • by rvw ( 755107 )

        We're way beyond star trek now in terms of personal communication technologies.

        I don't know what devices you have, but I don't have a badge on my chest that can communicate with a ship in outer space with no amplifiers or transmitters inbetween.

        Other than the detectors it's just software.

        Yeah, just some detectors and just software. But still way out of our league.

        • by pbhj ( 607776 )

 [] is pretty close to a badge, strip out the touchscreen, bluetooth, etc., and make it single number only and I bet you could put it in a bindi never mind a badge. In Star Trek you just don't see them beaming down the basestation and satellite dish to a nearby highspot ... not way out of our league IMO. We probably wouldn't manage the no-delay conversations, not sure when faster than light comms (tachyon beam modulation presumably!) are coming th

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        "We're way beyond star trek now in terms of personal communication technologies."

        Those Motorola flip phones don't talk to things in orbit, and they won't even talk to each other without quite a bit of infrastructure.

        You'd have to make some pretty impressive mods to the CMOS sensor in a cell phone to get it to do meaningful IR and UV spectroscopy. Standard sensors are just barely sensitive to UV and IR just barely outside the visible. The interesting stuff would be out of reach unless you used a different

    • by Peet42 ( 904274 )

      has any cell phone company even thought to license and/or make a functional cell phone of the replica of the Star Trek communicator of the original series?

      "Make" are way ahead of you... []

  • Dupe???? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Was this not already covered here on /.?

    Well, maybe not exactly, but I think this technology was already covered here... []

    • by RDW ( 41497 )

      'Was this not already covered here on /.?'

      The older article covers very different technology (basically just attaching a cell phone camera to a simple fluorescence microscope with conventional optics). But both devices supposedly address a similar problem (whether either does this usefully in practice is another issue).

  • by Genda ( 560240 ) <> on Sunday November 08, 2009 @06:21AM (#30020276) Journal


  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @06:32AM (#30020316) Homepage Journal
    Need a mass spectrometer? There's an app for that!
  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @06:34AM (#30020328) Journal
    ....but I am more interested in turning a cell phone into explosives [].
  • Theres an app for that
  • by physburn ( 1095481 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @07:01AM (#30020414) Homepage Journal
    Makes me wonder, why there are a lot more cheap electronic microscopes around, if there that simple to make, everyone should have a USB microscope, to connect to the computer, complete with a neural network program to detect know microorganism, and especially pathogens. Every hypochrondic in the world could then join in a global pathogen detection network.


    Microbiology [] Feed @ Feed Distiller []

    • Hey, why tag this as "funny"? That actually sounds like some possible future! Not that all possibilities are able to come true, of course - and sometimes, unfortunately.
    • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

      You've just invented crowdsourcing based on people's fears and phobias.

      I didn't think such an evil person existed, yet here we are.

      • by argent ( 18001 )

        You've just invented crowdsourcing based on people's fears and phobias.

        I think that one was invented back when we were living in mud brick cities.

        At least this one could vecome an amazingly useful tool for tracking the spread of pathogens with far more accuracy and precision than is currently available.

    • by Geminii ( 954348 )

      It could be an interesting home diagnostic tool. Point the USB widget at the patient, get the results, maybe print them out and take them to the local doc to get a jumpstart on diagnosis.

      GPs could even have more advanced versions for both preliminary assessments and to create a global baseline database.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      They're not overly expensive: []

      Think Geek is indeed sold out of at least one model. It's not usually quite so easy as taking a swab off something and inspecting it with a microscope though - the things have rather small fields of view. Plus you can't see viruses.

  • Africa (Score:3, Interesting)

    by golden age villain ( 1607173 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @07:16AM (#30020458)
    This is likely to be helpful in those countries where cell phones are abundant [] and where health care is so deficient. Diagnostic could even be offered remotely by western medical centers.
  • Hrm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @07:29AM (#30020500)

    I do have to question the rationale behind this and other "inventions."

    Basically, the theory is we can improve third world medical care by making (crappy) cell phone microscopes and I've also seen a shoddy centrifuge made from an eggbeater. Thing is, perfectly working USED first world medical equipment (aka a 50 year old microscope or centrifuge) is still going to be overwhelmingly better than this stuff. Moreover, the cost of the equipment is generally not the problem in the U.S. : it's the cost of training the people to do the work. I would imagine that the same bottleneck on trained personnel is ultimately the limiting factor in the third world as well.

    • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @08:57AM (#30020828) Journal

      From TFA:

      The adapted phones may be used for screening in places far from hospitals, technicians or diagnostic laboratories, Dr. Ozcan said.

      "Right now you need a microscope, and you need trained people," Dr. Bryson said. "But this device would allow you to work without either in a remote area. "

      M. Fatih Yanik, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, "This makes it possible for ordinary people to gather medical information in the field just by using a cellphone adapted with cheap parts."

      Cellphones tend to be pocket-sized and easily replaceable if lost or damaged. FAR easier than that used equipment you refer to.
      Older equipment from the "first world" is bulky, difficult to service and repair, and needs actual experts to work it. Often, it also needs specific work conditions (such as certain flavor of electricity) not readily available "in the field".

      Also, it is rather hard to write software for those old optical/mechanical devices you mention.
      Which is kinda important, since it is the software that does the pathogen detection in these mobile-phone-microscopes.
      And that greatly reduces those training costs you mention.

    • Re:Hrm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @09:26AM (#30020968)

      I don't think the idea is to make a general microscope, it's to make a little lab-in-a-box for detecting particular diseases.

      For example, suppose you want to detect sickle cell anemia, which is much more common in Africa than it is elsewhere. You can a) go out in the field, take a blood sample, send or take it back to the lab, wait for the lab to analyze it, then try to find the person again to tell them or b) take a drop of blood, pop it into your portable sickle cell anemia detector, and give them the diagnosis there on the spot.

      You can do (b) with a cell phone and someone who's trained to do a finger stick in a few minutes. For (a) you need the finger sticker and a qualified lab tech, plus bulky, delicate equipment that you're probably not going to haul around rural Africa (or rural anywhere else).

      The approach won't work for everything, but there are undoubtably niches it can fill nicely.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      The New York Times article says that the device uses software as a substitute for trained personnel. By eliminating lenses and trained personnel this device can be used anywhere in the world that you can get a cell phone signal. A great benefit to public health in both developed and third world countries.

      “Right now you need a microscope, and you need trained people,” Dr. Bryson said. “But this device would allow you to work without either in a remote area.”

    • Another person who has never been to the Third World. Try it before sounding off with nonsense. All your approach of sending second hand equipment does is to provide medical facilities for third world elites living in cities where there is enough electric power, and enough technicians to be able to service the old equipment. I think it could be described as the worst possible approach. Third world medical research facilities require the latest and best equipment, just like everywhere else, because it is mor
      • "Third world medical research facilities require the latest and best equipment, just like everywhere else, because it is more reliable, requires less skill to operate, and can be serviced with available parts."

        Oh really? I thought advances in technology has made the latest medical equipment both incredible feature rich and incredibly expensive.

  • . . . but the contract with AT&T that you have to sign costs $10,000 for two years . . .

    • "Funny" is close to the correct moderation category for this, but it would be better if I could mod it +1 Sad but True.
  • there's nothing wrong with my bodily fluids
  • Super Macro [] Your Cellphone Camera With A DVD Lens

  • Instead of using (and possibly damaging) cellphone, make the "microscope" device usable on desktop or laptop computer:
    Buy a cheap USB webcam, take it apart and remove lens - then write a simple program (probably using opencv) to analyse image, mark different cells and count them.

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @09:39AM (#30021048)
  • by toppavak ( 943659 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @10:57AM (#30021754)
    Looking through their paper [] they show diffraction patterns that are roughly 4 pixels across on a sensor with 9 micron pixels (36 microns) for red blood cells which are 5 microns. This implies roughly 7.2x magnification, which means their actual field-of-view is about 18 mm^2 or 1/55th of their claimed field of view.

    There's some serious issues with their idea of cost, too. Most field clinics in India (I have a brother who works as a malaria epidemiologist there) use microscopes that cost around $100-150, to claim replacing that with a $300+ camera phone (admittedly, the whole cell phone things looks like a huge marketing gimmick since they just use a high-end kodak interline CCD anyways) is "inexpensive" is more than a little disingenuous.

    I've ranted before on the science behind the LUCAS system before, so I'll try not to repeat myself, but the utility of such as system would be limited primarily to RBC/WBC counts which are typically done either in counting chambers on a microscope or in an automated system measuring light scatter (both are called hemocytometers). While I can believe that they could very well do what an automated hemocytometer does using a lower cost instrument, applications in screening for disease causing agents such as malaria parasites and mycobacteria are doubtful except at very high parasitemia (when a high enough density of parasites are present to scatter a detectable quantity of light) or at very high concentrations of bacteria in sputum (same story) at which point microscopy would be easier and cheaper to detect the objects. When objects start getting down to the 1 micron size-scale, it becomes exceedingly difficult to scatter light with them. Even looking at their published results, some of their diffraction patterns are already barely above background with cells in the 5-10 micron range. Trying to detect a minute variation inside one of those diffraction patterns (from a malaria parasite within an RBC, for example) while perhaps possible would not be very clinically reliable when you have no control over what might be in your samples.
  • multi-tool (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    But in these days of decent $100 optical microscopes, this seems to do less and cost more (not that there's anything wrong with that).

  • Prison inmates and their visitors have been using cell phones as proctology instruments for many years.

  • Now the third world needs to get cell phones so that we can turn them into cheap microscopes.
  • They're only slightly less clunky than that thing. And they don't require an internet connection.

If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.