3D-printed clip-on turns smartphone into microscope

February 22, 2018 // By Rich Pell
3D-printed clip-on turns smartphone into microscope
Researchers at RMIT University (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) have created a 3D printable add-on clip that turns a smartphone into a fully functional microscope.

According to the researchers, the microscope is powerful enough to visualize specimens as small as 1/200th of a millimeter, including microscopic organisms, animal and plant cells, blood cells, cell nuclei, and more. The researchers are also making the 3D printing files freely available to the public, allowing anyone with access to a 3D printer to make the device.

The technology, say the researchers, has immense potential as a scientific tool - one that is ideal for use in remote areas and for field-work where larger standalone microscopes are unavailable or impractical. Contained in a robust and mobile handheld package, the clip-on technology does not rely on an external power or light source to work.

The device takes advantage of the integrated illumination available with nearly all smartphone cameras. It uses internal illumination tunnels that guide light from the camera flash to illuminate the sample from behind, overcoming issues seen with other microscopy-enabled mobile phone devices, say the researchers.

"Almost all other phone-based microscopes use externally powered light sources, while there's a perfectly good flash on the phone itself," says Dr Antony Orth, lead developer and CNBP Research Fellow at RMIT. "External LEDs and power sources can make these other systems surprisingly complex, bulky and difficult to assemble. The beauty of our design is that the microscope is usable after one simple assembly step and requires no additional illumination optics, significantly reducing the cost and complexity of assembly."

Another advantage of the clip-on microscope, says Orth, is that it enables both "bright-field" and "dark-field" microscopy techniques. The former applies to specimens observed on a bright background, while the latter shows the specimen illuminated on a dark background.

"The added dark-field functionality lets us observe samples that are nearly invisible under conventional bright-field operation such as cells in media," he says. "Having both capabilities in such a small device is extremely beneficial and increases the range of activity that the microscope can


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