Scientists transform a Nokia 1020 into a microscope to save lives

5 phones ahead of their time
Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr
Identifying mutations in DNA sequences is indispensable when it comes to fighting off emerging diseases, but the practice has always been the domain of highly-specialized laboratories, performed using microscopes costing tens of thousands of dollars. A breakthrough 3D-printed apparatus, designed by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, as well as the Stockholm and Uppsala Universities of Sweden, aims to solve that dilemma.

Researchers used a Nokia 1020, well known for its 41-megapixel shooter, in developing an array which transforms the phone into a portable, low-cost microscope capable of genetic sequencing. The potential benefits are massive for scientists working on-site in underdeveloped communities and remote areas, who would typically have to send DNA samples extracted from tissue to centralized labs for analysis.

This solution could save valuable time in treating diseases — not just in terms of availability of equipment, but also ease of use. The microscope can locate mutations in cells without requiring DNA extraction first, meaning relatively less-skilled health care workers can still provide a service essential to saving lives.

nokia 1020 microscope
UCLA, Stockholm University and Uppsala University
UCLA, Stockholm University and Uppsala University

Mats Nilsson, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at Stockholm and Uppsala Universities and one of the leaders on the project, stressed the importance of testing done locally at care centers, rather than being outsourced in an interview with Phys.org.

“Oftentimes, advanced lab-based testing is performed at major hospitals, which is limiting, as not everyone has access to a hospital that can perform these tests,” Nilsson said.

The device records multi-color fluorescence and bright field images — same as a traditional microscope — but at an exponentially lower cost. Aydogan Ozcan, professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at UCLA, told Phys.org the device could go for well under $500 if manufactured in bulk. That’s much cheaper and more accessible compared to the price tag of most microscopes used for DNA sequencing, which range from roughly $10,000 to $50,000, according to Ozcan.

When a technician places a sample under the microscope, the phone feeds data from the photos into an algorithm, which checks the DNA sequences to identify irregularities. Interestingly, the setup still utilizes the 1020’s default camera application, Nokia Pro Cam, and makes use of the phone’s ability to capture RAW files. However, the team states the microscope could be adapted to work in tandem with other smartphones as well.

Smart Home

Uber Eats is testing a system for cheaper meal delivery

You know how Uber Pool offers cheaper trips if riders share a car? Well, Uber Eats is currently testing the same idea for meal delivery, and it could mean cheaper orders for customers.
Computing

New rumors say the Pixelbook 2 could show up at CES 2019

What will the Pixelbook 2 be like? Google hasn't announced it, but thanks to rumors and leaks, we think we have a pretty good idea of what the potential new flagship Chromebook will be like.
Deals

Need a last-minute gift? Get an iPhone Wireless Charger for under $20

Whether you're looking for stocking stuffers or gift ideas, these deals from Mophie, Anker, and Yootech can get you a wireless charging pad for cheap. Don't settle for wired charging if you don't have to.
Cars

This freewheeling Army truck-turned-tiny home is a labor of love

Most tiny homes are models of efficiency but one British metal worker has redefined the idea, converting an old Army truck into a mobile tiny home that comes with a bed, a sofa, a shower, and a beer garden.
Mobile

Quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed

Looking for a few accoutrements to make your smartphone even better? If you, or someone you know, is a sucker for accessories, you'll want to check out our collection of quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed.
Mobile

Ditch your smartphone for a year and win $100k from Vitaminwater

Vitaminwater is willing to part with $100,000 if you're willing to part with your smartphone partner for a year. Could you last for a year armed with only a 1996-era phone? Here's your chance to find out.
Deals

Walmart drops prices on Apple Watches and other fitness trackers

Smartwatches, fitness trackers, and wearable heart rate monitors from Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, and Garmin are popular gifts. Wearables are smarter and more capable than in earlier years. We found the best wearables deals on Walmart.
Music

Here's our head-to-head comparison of Pandora and Spotify

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Wearables

The best Wear OS watches

There are a ton of different Wear OS watches out there, but which one's right for you? No matter what you're looking for from a smartwatch, here are the best Wear OS watches out there.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Home Theater

How to master your equalizer settings for the perfect sound

You may know what an EQ is, but do you know how to adjust equalizer settings for the best possible sound? We go through the basics of the modern EQ and lay out some guidelines for how to achieve tip-top sound from your system.
Mobile

How to switch from iPhone to Android: The ultimate guide

If you've decided to bridge the great tech divide and leave Apple's walled garden for the unknown shores of Android, then you'll find all the tips and advice you need to begin switching from an iPhone to an Android device.
Smart Home

This device detects when your pet is at the door and opens it for them

Tired of waiting for your dog to come inside, or running home in the middle of the day to let your four-legged friend out? Wayzn automatically opens sliding doors for your dog and gives you remote control.
Mobile

Apple pushing update to iPhone in China in response to legal troubles

Apple has been facing legal issues in China due to alleged infringements of patents from Qualcomm Inc. On Friday, Apple announced it will push a software update in China in hopes of resolving any potential legal issues around the iPhone.