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A Virus on the Camera Roll

Smartphone cameras are getting better and better. But how about one that can photograph a single virus?

It won't come with the latest iPhones, but it does exist thanks to electrical engineer Aydogan Ozcan and his team at the University of California, Los Angeles. Using 3-D printing, they've created a portable smartphone attachment weighing less than eight ounces that can capture images of things 1,000 times slimmer than a human hair.

Why rig up smartphones to perform the kind of scientific work other equipment can already do? Because smartphones are cheap and ubiquitous. Enabling them to detect viruses and bacteria could project sophisticated biomedical testing into remote locations where bulky lab equipment and reliable electricity might not be available.

Getting clear pictures of things as tiny as viruses isn't easy, and a smartphone user couldn't just aim, magnify and shoot. The Ozcan team used a laser diode to illuminate superthin samples at a 75-degree angle, thereby avoiding the detection of scattered light that would interfere with a clear image. Viral samples were prepared by applying dyes that would cause telltale viral proteins to emit fluorescent light.
 
 

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