During this day and age, technology can now make things much more accessible. Most times without realising, most people who have smartphones have a very powerful digital camera in their pocket. Now, thanks to a wide range of accessories (which include add-on lenses, tripod mounts and remote shutter releases), and to a recent research by the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (Nectec) Thai scientists have now developed a new lens for phones which can now transform the cameras on the device, whether its your mobile or tablet, into microscopes.
Normally used by scientists and students in labs and school, microscopes are available for tens of thousands of baht at cheapest, which usually come with limited features. A project team from Nectec’s Photonics Technology Laboratory have developed these lenses which can remodel these smartphone devices into microscopes.
With these built-in camera being transformed from a camera phone to a dual microscopic lense makes them not only easy to use but affordable, said the Nectec executive director, Sarun Sumriddetchkajorn. The dual microscope lens, TWI-VIS, which is what Nectec calls it, had two magnification features in a single piece. The microscope has been designed in a trillium-like shape, which can easily be handled and attached to both front and back of the camera and comes off without leaving any residue.
The microscope can be multipurpose. In the field of education, they can be used in the school science laboratory. Nectec have also developed a classroom version where students can learn and carry out experiments by themselves. To both front and back camera, sample slide holders that have focus adjustment knobs can be attached. Furthermore, there is a built-in light that can illuminate the sample. Users can also take photos or videos using the smartphone or tablet.
‘One side of the lens is flat, the other is a curve so that it can attach to the phone camera. Users can instantly turn their mobile device into a microscope’, Sarun said. ‘It is possible to develop further mobile applications to analyse Buddha amulets to judge whether they are real of fake’, says Sarun. Also adding that the microscope will allow farmers to take photos of the insects that are on their crops. Then they can upload these pictures to a specialist who can then identify if the insects have become an agricultural problem.
Whilst the Thai team have been successful in creating more convenient ways of using these microscopes, researchers in Australia have also invented an optical lens that could too be combined with smartphone cameras to create a microscope that can diagnose skin cancer or identify agricultural pests.
Steve Lee, who is the head of the Applied Optics Laboratory at the Australian National University, along with his colleagues had created the lenses by using the natural shape of the liquid droplets. The team had put a droplet of polymer onto a microscope skip and then inverted it. Once that was done, they let gravity get to work, which then in turn pulled it into the perfect curvature.
Lee won the “Innovative Use of Technology” award at the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes 2014 for him creating a plastic droplet that can then be added to smartphones to create a cheap, high-powered microscope.
‘Some of the scientific cameras come with 5mp, whilst some smartphones come with 16mp cameras. This allows it to be more than a smartphone camera,’ Steve Lee says. ‘To me, this is a dream come true’.