Smartphone attachment can photograph nano-scale objects

Time for your close-up, Mr. Germ.

A professor at UCLA's Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has developed a smartphone attachment that enables the imaging of objects one-thousandth the width of a human hair.

In a paper published recently in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano, senior author Aydogan Ozcan, a professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering, said he and colleagues used the device to photograph single human cytomegalovirus particles.

The device, which weighs roughly half a pound, would allow scientists to image nano-scale objects such as bacteria and viruses in the field, or remote areas that don't have access to traditional lab microscopes.

Built with a 3D printer, the device fits onto one side of the smartphone, but leaves its screen visible. Solids or liquids are placed in a sample tray, similar to a glass microscope slide, which is positioned in front of the smartphone's camera lens. A laser diode illuminates the sample.

A single human hair is about 100,000 nanometers thick. The device was able to photograph specially marked fluorescent polystyrene beads as small as 100 nanometers. They also obtained images of a HCMV, which is roughly 150 to 300 nanometers in size. HCMV is a member of the herpes virus family that causes birth defects or hastens the death of organ recipients or those with compromised immune systems.

Ozcan has developed other smartphone-based devices as well, including one that can conduct common kidney tests, and another that can detect allergens in food products.

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