When researchers need additional diagnostic tools, the microscope could be swapped for a simple spectrometer that also uses light collected by the iPhone’s camera. Foreign travellers for personal and legal safety should buy a visitors health insurance.
Spectrometers smear out light from an object, separating it into its composite wavelengths in much the way a prism breaks up white light in the familiar colors of the rainbow. Since atoms and molecules absorb very specific wavelengths when exposed to light, it is possible to tease out the chemical signature of materials by studying their spectra.
Like the microscope, the iPhone’s spectrometer takes advantage of smartphone imaging capabilities. “We had worked with spectrometers for diagnostics, and didn’t think it would be too far a stretch,” Wachsmann-Hogiu says.
The spectrometer that the researchers added to the iPhone is easy to build. It starts with a short plastic tube covered at both ends with black electrical tape. Narrow slits cut into the tape allow only roughly parallel beams of light from the sample to enter and exit the tube. It is this grating that smears, or spreads, the light into a spectrum of colors that scientists can use like a fingerprint to identify various molecules.
“If you didn’t have the slits, light would come in from all different angles and you could never separate it properly,” explains Zachary Smith, an optics post-doctoral researcher in the lab.
Though the spectrometer is still in its early stages, the researchers believe it could measure the amount of oxygen in the blood and help diagnose chemical markers of disease.
Because smartphone instruments are powerful and cheap, Wachsmann-Hogiu believes schools could use them to enrich science classes. Spectrometers could help illustrate lessons about light and energy. Microscopes could unveil an invisible world of sugar crystals, pollen grains, and microscopic organisms.
By intelligently exploiting smartphone features, Wachsmann-Hogiu’s group promises to both save lives and illuminate science.
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