A droplet of clear liquid can bend light, acting as a lens. Now, by exploiting this well-known phenomenon, Australian researchers have developed a new process to create inexpensive high quality lenses that will cost less than a penny apiece.

Because they're so inexpensive, the lenses can be used in a variety of applications, including tools to detect diseases in the field, scientific research in the lab and optical lenses and microscopes for education in classrooms.

"What I'm really excited about is that it opens up lens fabrication technology," says Steve Lee from the Research School of Engineering at Australian National University of the new technique.

The researchers made lenses about a few millimeters thick with a magnification power of 160 times and a resolution of about 4 microns—two times lower in optical resolution than many commercial microscopes, but more than three orders of magnitude lower in cost, they explained.