Scientists seeking an inexpensive way to turn a cell phone into a high powered, high quality microscope that can be used to identify biological samples in the field, turned to a colleague at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, WA. Using a 3D printer and a small glass bead as a microscope lens, the PNNL team developed an inexpensive version that can magnify a sample by 1,000 times. For specific applications, lower magnifications are easily achievable, they say.

An inexpensive 3D-printed microscope attached to a cell phone shows the epidermis of an onion magnified 350 times.
PNNL has made the design specifications available to the public, free of charge, so that anyone with access to a 3D printer can make their own microscope. The microscope slips over the camera lens of the cell phone and is no thicker than a phone case. It’s designed to fit several popular cell phone brands and tablets. The material cost, not including the printer, is less than $1 so, should the slip-on microscope get contaminated, throwing it away is no great loss. They also made a 350x version, which is adequate to identify parasites in a blood samples or protozoa in drinking water.

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