Cell Phone Microscopy

Over the past semester I’ve made several iterations of a small cell phone microscopy kit using commercially available currency detection microscopes that you can get for $7 on amazon. These guys get about 45x magnification, which is enough to be useful in diagnostics. In the cases where mine were used, it was useful to diagnosing STDs.

Early prototypes used film canisters to hold the scope and light separately such that a slide could be backlit. The inside of the canister is painted white to diffuse the light. The scope and light are press fit into the soft plastic of the canister. Holes were milled or punched and the slots for the slide was cut at a bandsaw. Machining the plastic was obnoxious, I think it could all be cut with an exacto knife but I don’t know how accurate the press fits could be.We wanted to put together a couple of these based on the same concept but made of different readily available materials. I decided to do film canister, tictac box, and wood, all of which are found all over the world (though the film canisters might start to disappear.)

All of them worked pretty well. The wood one was fun because I’d never really made anything out of wood before, so the sanding and finishing was a good experience and it turned out looking so nice!

In the lab I tested the set-up using printed paper and food coloring on the slides. The lab has sent two of these kits around the world — the Dominican Republic and Mexico, I believe — so they have been used in the field and we’ve been getting feedback on what else would be useful to include and if they can be locally produced. However I myself have never looked at cells on it and that’s something I’m interested in.

These are the kind of images I was able to get with the set up.

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