It’s not a secret that today’s smartphone cameras are capable for more than the casual selfie. In fact, many pro photographers now employ mobile devices for their work. But did you know that they also have some serious, practical applications for science? Not too long ago, we reported about two independent projects that were developing tiny accessory lenses that could turn smartphones into viable microscope replacements, with the prospect of bringing screening solutions to parts of the world where proper medical devices are unaffordable or simply unavailable.
Recently, a team of scientists has been using the Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone for medical screening, with great success. Thanks to the phone’s great camera – sporting 41 megapixels on a sensor the size of what you usually find in compact cameras – the team was able to hook the Lumia 1020 up to a microscope and take high-resolution images of human cells. Using the DNG RAW files the phone is able to record, they could zoom in at a greater level than would be possible with dedicated medical devices.
With this setup, Drs. Mark Li-cheng Wu and John Paul Graff were able to successfully examine and diagnose a patient with a bacterial infection that is, under normal circumstances, hard to detect due to the size of the bacteria. Thanks to the combined magnifying power of their microscope and the Lumia 1020’s 41-megapixel camera, they were able to detect a parasite measuring mere micrometers. Especially helpful was the fact that the individual pixels on the Lumia 1020’s measure just over a micrometer each, revealing even the smallest detail.
Wu and Graff see a lot of potential in mobile technology for scientific applications, especially in the medical sector where dedicated solutions often cost a small fortune. While they have found a couple of things that could be improved inthe future, science-ready smartphones – such as higher resolution for the detection of even smaller details, higher shooting rates, the possibility to extend the camera’s memory, etc. – they were very happy with the Lumia 1020 overall, especially because it could be implemented so easily into the Windows-based workflow that many medical institutions employ.
The idea of using the Lumia 1020’s highly capable camera for research becomes even more exciting when considering the addition of an inexpensive magnifying lens, like the two we mentioned earlier. This way, all kinds of scientific applications that need great magnification – not only medical research – could be done easily out in the field, in places where dedicated equipment are cost-prohibited, or where equipment cannot be easily transported to. Just think of how this might revolutionize all kinds of scientific field work, and help make the world a better place for many people.