Researchers have come up with a microscopic microscope, tiny enough to fit on a fingertip, that can be cheaply mass-produced and used to scan blood and water for pathogens.
The high-resolution microscope functions without the large and expensive lenses usually associated with such imaging devices. Instead, it combines the chip technology found in digital cameras with "microfluidics," the science of channeling liquid at scales far smaller than a common droplet.
"The whole thing is truly compact--it could be put in a cell phone--and it can use just sunlight for illumination, which makes it very appealing for third-world applications," said Changhuei Yang, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology and one of the lead developers of the device.
Yang imagines a range of uses for the so-called optofluidic microscope, which measures about the size of George Washington's nose on a quarter and has the magnifying power of a top-quality optical microscope, according to the Caltech research team.
Health field workers could use it to examine blood samples for malaria and check water for giardia and other parasites. It could be employed on the battlefield. Yang said the microscope could one day even be implanted inside humans to isolate rogue cancer cells circulating in the bloodstream.
"Our research is motivated by the fact that microscopes have been around since the 16th century, and yet their basic design has undergone very little change and has proven prohibitively expensive to miniaturize," said Yang, who is currently in talks with biotech companies about mass-producing the chip, a process he says costs about $10 per microscope. … Read more