No, these are not the new features of the iPhone 5. Researchers from the University of California have tweaked iPhones in such a way that they can be used as high-quality medical imaging and chemical detection devices. By adding some hardware and maxing out the capability of the iPhone, they were able to transform it into a microscopy and spectroscopy tool. The research team will present their findings at the Optical Society’s Annual Meeting in San Jose, California, October 16-20.
The aim of the researchers was to enhance the iPhone on a small budget. This way it could offer help in areas without laboratory facilities and, combined with the data transfer capabilities of the phone, it can be used to share images with colleagues all over the world.
Using 5x magnification ball lenses (1 millimeter-diameter) and the high resolution of the camera’s semiconductor sensor, the iPhone microscope could distinguish features on the order of 1.5 microns. This is small enough to see different types of blood cells. To obtain a good image, the researchers had to use digital image processing software to correct for distortion caused by the ball lenses. The images are not as sharp as those obtained with commercially available lab microscopes, but they can be of use where regular microscopes are not available. To make the spectrometer, the researchers used plastic tubes covered with black tape, in which they made a narrow slit. This way only parallel beams of light are captured. With the spectrometer feature they plan to measure quantities of oxygen in the blood and provide help spotting chemical markers of diseases. You can see sample images for yourself:
The microscope feature is being validated and the researchers plan to improve the basic concept as well, like using other lenses and different software to make it useful for different applications in a variety of clinical cases. The spectrometer is still in its early stages.