A Tiny Microscope That Attaches To A Cell Phone Could Save Lives Around The World

Lucas microscopeThe LUCAS microscope, which detects diseases in water and costs only $10 to manufacture.

Photo: UCLA

A tiny microscope that attaches to a cell phone could save lives around the world by detecting deadly diseases.The LUCAS (Lenseless Ultra-wide-field Cell monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging) microscope was invented by Aydogan Ozcan, an electrical engineering professor at UCLA, in 2010.

The device uses a tiny computer to detect various diseases in liquids.

It detects the shadows of cells in water or human saliva to detect for diseases. The cell phone powers the device and then uses cloud-like technology to send images from the microscope to a personal computer. Then, scientists or medical professionals can evaluate the results and look for disease and bacteria. 

Traditional microscopes are massive and delicate, and with them, it is impossible to tell whether there are diseases in the water without sending samples to a central lab. The LUCAS microscope will change all that.

“I wanted to create a cost-effective microscope that medical professionals could throw into a backpack and take from one city to another,” Ozcan told us in an interview. “This could have amazing implications for medicine in the developing world. 

The microscope also costs only $10 to manufacture. Ozcan started a business, Holomic, where he produces the devices. He’s started selling devices with similar technology but said it would be a year before the LUCAS device is mass-produced. 

The device is about the size of a deck of cards and attaches to where the cell phone charges. 

There are 94 million people around the world afflicted with malaria and 12 million with tuberculosis, according to to Kaiser Family Foundation. These diseases are often spread through contaminated drinking water.

There are 5 billion cell phones in use worldwide, according to the Pew Research centre. In much of Africa, as many as one in four people has a cell phone, Ozcan said. 

But the device won’t just benefit developing countries, Ozcan said.

“The LUCAS device can help other areas as well because it’s an extremely mobile and convenient way to test for diseases,” Ozcan said. “It can reduce high medical costs anywhere.”

Here’s a diagram of the device, which is being implemented in developing countries:

Lucas microscope

Photo: UCLA

Read more about how Ozcan invented this microscope >
Here are 30 Innovations That Will Change The World >

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