Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Droplet lens - Turning smart phones into microscopes


Australian scientists have invented a simple and cheap way of making a high-powered lens that can transform a smart phone into a high-resolution microscope.

Costing less than a cent, the lenses promise a revolution in science and medicine in developing countries and remote areas.

Dr. Steve Lee inspects PDMS droplet lenses on a slide.

Credit: Australian National University

The lens fabrication technique was invented by Dr Steve Lee from The Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Engineering, who collaborated with Dr Tri Phan from Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research to find ways to transform the lentil-sized lens into a medical imaging tool. The lenses are made by using the natural shape of liquid droplets.

"We put a droplet of polymer onto a microscope cover slip and then invert it. Then we let gravity do the work, to pull it into the perfect curvature," Dr Lee said.

... more about:
»Biomedical »Costing »LED »Medical »battery »gravity

"By successively adding small amounts of fluid to the droplet, we discovered that we can reach a magnifying power of up to 160 times with an imaging resolution of four micrometers."

The polymer, polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), is the same as that used for contact lenses, and it won't break or scratch.

"It would be perfect for the third world. All you need is a fine tipped tool, a cover slip, some polymer and an oven," Dr Lee said.

The first droplet lens was made by accident.

"I nearly threw them away. I happened to mention them to my colleague Tri Phan, and he got very excited," Dr Lee said.

"So then I decided to try to find the optimum shape, to see how far I could go. When I saw the first images of yeast cells I was like, 'Wow!'"

Dr Lee and his team worked with Dr Phan to design a lightweight 3D-printable frame to hold the lens, along with a couple of miniature LED lights for illumination, and a coin battery.

The technology taps into the current citizen science revolution, which is rapidly transforming owners of smart phones into potential scientists. There are also exciting possibilities for remote medical diagnosis.

Dr Phan said the tiny microscope has a wide range of potential uses, particularly if coupled with the right smartphone apps.

"This is a whole new era of miniaturisation and portability - image analysis software could instantly transform most smartphones into sophisticated mobile laboratories," Dr Phan said.

"I am most able to see the potential for this device in the practice of medicine, although I am sure specialists in other fields will immediately see its value for them."

Dr Lee said the low-cost lens had already attracted interest from a German group interested in using disposable lenses for tele-dermatology.

"There are also possibilities for farmers," he said. "They can photograph fungus or insects on their crops, upload the pictures to the internet where a specialist can identify if they are a problem or not."

The lens making technology is described in the latest issue of Biomedical Optics Express, published by The Optical Society.


A video will be available from 11pm AEST at

(NOTE: B-roll vision is available at Higher resolution video and photographs are available upon request to the ANU media office on +61 (2) 6125 7979.)


Dr Woei Ming (Steve) Lee
ANU Research School of Engineering
T: +61 (2) 6125 6058
M: +61 (0) 424 742 314

Dr Tri Phan
Garvan Institute of Medical Research
T: +61 (2) 9295 8414
M: +61 (0) 415 888 294

For media assistance, call the ANU media hotline: +61 (2) 6125 7979.

Contact the Garvan Institute on +61 (0) 434 071 326.

ANU Media | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: Biomedical Costing LED Medical battery gravity

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Identifying New Sources of Turbulence in Spherical Tokamaks
30.11.2015 | Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

nachricht Graphene microphone outperforms traditional nickel and offers ultrasonic reach
27.11.2015 | Institute of Physics

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How do Landslides control the weathering of rocks?

Chemical weathering in mountains depends on the process of erosion.

Chemical weathering of rocks over geological time scales is an important control on the stability of the climate. This weathering is, in turn, highly dependent...

Im Focus: How Cells in the Developing Ear ‘Practice’ Hearing

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular chain of events that enables the cells to make “sounds” on their own, essentially “practicing” their ability to process sounds in the world around them.

The researchers, who describe their experiments in the Dec. 3 edition of the journal Cell, show how hair cells in the inner ear can be activated in the absence...

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Urbanisation and migration from rural areas challenging agriculture in Eastern Europe

30.11.2015 | Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Making backup plans can be a self-fulfilling prophecy

01.12.2015 | Social Sciences

How do Landslides control the weathering of rocks?

01.12.2015 | Earth Sciences

Teamplay IT solution enables more efficient use of protocols

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

More VideoLinks >>>