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New Tech & Disruptive Technologies

The smartphone detects microbes

Researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Photonic Technologies (Leibniz-IPHT) have come up with an idea that is both simple and ingenious: using special lighting and neural networks, they transform smartphones into microscopes – at a material cost of less than 100 euros.

29 Mar. 2018 David Schahinian
Source: Leibniz-IPHT
Source: Leibniz-IPHT

The Leibniz scientists’ invention could help to save lives, as an application example shows. Microbes are often the cause of contaminated drinking water. Proving this costs a lot of money and is usually only possible in specialized laboratories – which is a problem for developing countries in particular. The Jena researchers have now developed a lighting system specially selected for the respective object, optimally amplifying its contrast. An artificial neural network looks for the appropriate light pattern. It takes about half a second of computing time on the smartphone to deliver a result.

"Everything is controlled and evaluated via the cellphone using a self-developed smartphone app," says Professor Rainer Heintzmann from the Leibniz IPHT. The researchers exclusively use mass-produced products as components in order to keep costs down. The cellphone camera thus serves as a microscope objective, while LED-based video projectors are used as a source of illumination.

The smartphone as a medical laboratory, however, can do even more: scientists in Hanover are currently developing a technically slightly modified cellphone capable of analyzing bodily fluids using an optical measurement method. Monitoring of blood glucose levels or pregnancy tests are among its conceivable tasks. The team received a grant of 900,000 euros from the Federal Ministry of Economics in 2016 to bring the system to market maturity.