A gimp-like ball stretched over the lens of the iPhone's camera turns it into a powerful microscope
If you ever peered closely at a drop of water, you’ll know that it can produce a tiny version of the world beyond. This ability to act as a lens can also turn a hole and a drip into a magnifying glass.
This is the principal used by researchers at UC Davis, headed by physicist Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu, to turn an iPhone into a microscope. Instead of a drop of water (which the team abandoned due to the drops drying), the team used 1mm-diameter (0.003 feet) ball lens embedded into a small sheet of rubber. This rubber was taped over the lens of an iPhone (any auto-focusing cellphone camera would do, but UC Davis also teaches iPhone development).
The lens gives the iPhone an extra 5x magnification, which is enough to spot diseased blood cells. The phone-cam works so well because the pixels squeezed onto its small sensor are so tiny, enabling it to resolve objects just 1.5 microns in size.
Good enough: The iPhone vs. a proper microscope (top), viewing pollen grains and plant stems
It’s nowhere near as good as a proper microscope, but at just $30-$40 (plus the cost of the phone) it doesn’t have to be. Scientists can spot problems in blood cells — sickle-cell anemia, iron deficiency — from the clear portion at the center of the images.
The low cost of this mod, along with ease of use and startlingly good results, means that doctors on the ground in developing countries could soon have an important new tool to fight disease.