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Caltech Shows Off a Lensless, Miniaturized Microscope 110

DeviceGuru writes "Caltech claims its researchers have 'turned science fiction into reality' with their development of a single-chip microscope. Although it doesn't have any lenses, the device is said to provide magnification comparable to that of sophisticated optical microscopes. The microscope's magnifying capabilities derive from a technology known as microfluidics, which is based on the channeling of fluid flow at incredibly small scales. Applications for the so-called 'optofluidic microscope' are expected to include field analysis of blood samples for malaria, or checking water supplies for giardia and other pathogens. The project's director thinks devices based on it could be implanted directly into the human body, in order to help arrest the spread of cancer." There's also coverage of the microscope at EE Times.
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Caltech Shows Off a Lensless, Miniaturized Microscope

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  • Caltech not Cal Tech (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Why can't Slash Dot figure this out?

  • Argh (Score:3, Informative)

    by VirusEqualsVeryYes ( 981719 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2008 @02:58PM (#24406593)

    It's "Caltech", not "Cal Tech".

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by rdwald ( 831442 )

      Aw, you ruined my "Yet another typographical error from Slash Dot" joke. /also an alum

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ornithopters now the prefered way to travel, as sandworms tend to lead to sunburns, rashes and sand blown hair.

    The voice is still being perfected.

  • The coin in the photo is actually a dime, not a quarter as is indicated in the text.
    • No, it's one of the newer US quarters. About 7/8" (22.2mm) in diameter.


      • If this is a joke, than *WOOSH* to me. Otherwise I direct your attention to:
        Quarter: 24.26 mm diameter, 1.75 mm thick
        Dime: 17.91 mm diameter, 1.35 mm thick. [] []
        Anyway, you can even read the text on the dime in the photo. It clearly says "dime" in addition to olive branch and torch motif of a dime.
        • I see the confusion. I only RTFA the first link (which features a dime). The second link, features a quarter.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        No, it's one of the newer US quarters. About 7/8" (22.2mm) in diameter.


        If it one of the new quarters then why does it have "One Dime" written on it? I can foresee great problems with the new coins if this is the case :)

        • It appears we were referring to two different pictures. The first link compares the device to a US dime, the second link compares it to a US quarter. I didn't read the first link because it went to a blog (which are typically useless when more direct sources are available.)


    • by jefu ( 53450 )

      Ah, but what is a quarter worth these days. A dime!

  • Practical aplication from TFA:

    "Yang thinks devices containing the microscope could even be implanted directly into the human body. Such a device, he suggests, could autonomously screen for and isolate rogue cancer cells in blood circulation"

    • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Wednesday July 30, 2008 @03:19PM (#24406907) Journal

      They're trying to turn your own body into a police state, you just let them go after the "rogue" cancer cells, but then it will be the normal cancer cells, and then they'll start profiling against any minority cell, and soon enough every cell will be living in fear of their screening chip overlords.

    • by Compholio ( 770966 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2008 @03:27PM (#24407037)

      Practical aplication from TFA:

      "Yang thinks devices containing the microscope could even be implanted directly into the human body. Such a device, he suggests, could autonomously screen for and isolate rogue cancer cells in blood circulation"


      Nope, I'm working on a project with these kinds of devices and the throughput of the microfluidic channel is not sufficient to work in your bloodstream (and I doubt they have enough channels in a small enough space). You could take a tiny portion of your blood and run it through the device, but if you're looking for rouge cancer cells to zap then this would not prove effective.

      • if you're looking for rouge cancer cells to zap then this would not prove effective.

        I imagine differentiating between rouge and red would be very difficult.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by yog ( 19073 ) *

      There are lots of applications for a $10 fluid microscope chip.

      - Restaurants. You could pour a few drops of your soup, or drink, or meat juice, into your cell phone gadget and it will tell you if there are nasty critters.

      - Hospitals. Medical workers can do preliminary blood screenings at admission time--just do a thumb prick, and get a urine sample, and they can discover proteins, various microbes, cell counts (perhaps). This info can go right into the (electronic) chart before the patient has even finis

    • About the autonomous part...

      What kind of autonomous pathogen detection systems do we have today?
      I am not talking about strip tests [].
      I am thinking more in a way of pattern recognition system plugged into a digital microscope, combined with a database of say.. known bacteria.

      Sounds to me that building something like that should be a logical practical application from the moment we managed to strap a digital camera to a microscope.
      With an "on a chip" microscope for 10$, I wonder... Shouldn't someone be working

    • A microscope that can isolate cancer cells - all on its own - no nanotechnology needed?

      And if the microscope is implanted in the human body, what are we looking at? Is it going to incorporate some transmitter to communicate with doctors? I don't know, this "autonomous" thing sounds really far fetched to me.

      • I'm picturing a horde of these microscopes planted around the inside of my body and a gem in my hand Logan's Run style. *BING* light goes on, you have cancer.
  • Image splicing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2008 @03:09PM (#24406763)

    All of the images are then pieced together to create a surprisingly precise two-dimensional picture of the object.

    So how much of this device is really software on a much larger device like a laptop?

    • its very common for development versions of technology like this to rely on off the shelf computers to provide for their processing needs.

      Its not cost effective to build special hardware until the thing goes into production.

      I recall seeing a prototype mars surface mapping robot chugging around with a normal desktop PC duct taped on top of it. Well, screws held it too, but I'm guessing some mis-hap had led to the extra precaution.

    • by smaddox ( 928261 )

      you could probably create a embedded device to store the raw data, then analyze it later - like back at the lab.

      It wouldn't give immediate results, but it would remove the necessity to take lots of samples back to a lab for microscope slide preparation.

  • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2008 @03:11PM (#24406789) Journal

    How many Washington quarter noses will fit in a Library of Congress?

    Could they have just used millimeters?

    • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2008 @03:25PM (#24407013) Journal

      It was not meant to be funny! This is the dumbing down of our society and it sucks!

      If you use actual units of measure:
      1) Scientifically minded people will know what you're talking about
      2) Young inquiring minds will expand their knowledge of a measuring unit
      3) People that don't care enough to find out about measuring units won't care about your article either

      If you make up some stupid unit:
      1) You annoy scientifically minded people
      2) Young minds don't learn anything about measuring units
      3) They still don't care!

  • I didn't know you'd only need a microscope to stop cancer...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by wattrlz ( 1162603 )

      Well, it's quantum cancer: Observing it forces it out of its metastable state and destroys it.

  • Mentioned in a short story by Isaac Asimov, 'anopticon' Was featured in the short story "Anniversary" the sequel to "Marooned off Vesta"

    This device was a microscope, and a telescope with no lenses.

    • by smaddox ( 928261 )

      we already have radio telescopes without lenses - it is just a sensor matrix. With software you can pick which direction to look in. The problem with scaling it to visible wavelengths is that no material we know of can oscillate at those frequencies. People ARE working on meta-materials to allow negative indexes of refraction, though.

      Theoretically a negative indexes of refraction would allow the creation of a flat "lens" with no resulting aberrations. Of course, the "lens" would have to be infinitely large

    • by AP31R0N ( 723649 )

      i had Anopticon and he was sooooo cool until my little brother stepped on him. After that i couldn't transform him back to a microscope. My parents bought me Comicon with HIS allowance, so i guess it all worked out.

    • by jd ( 1658 )
      Heh. I'd thought the same thing. Wonder if his estate can claim royalties off any Cal Tech patents, since he gave a "business method" for such a device, which gives the estate a claim of prior art. I'm going to have to re-read all the other Asimov short stories now for other invention ideas.
  • Very clever: no lenses are required since the specimens are in more or less direct contact with the imaging surface. I wonder why the sensors have to be in a linear array though -- couldn't they be expanded to a rectangular array in order to get a conventional image instead of having the specimens sliding across a linear array and generating scan lines?
    • I was going to guess that the holes in the metal were less than the size of a single CCD pixel element, but a few back of the envelope calculations inform me that they are about the same size.

      Maybe more holes ruins the smooth flow of the sample?
  • by philspear ( 1142299 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2008 @03:23PM (#24406965)

    Suspicious that they couldn't include an example of the images this thing is capable of taking. If I'm going to be using a microscope, I'm going to want it to be able to, you know, SCOPE.

    Also suspicious: the "motivation". FTFA

    Our research is motivated by the fact that microscopes have been around since the 16th century, and yet their basic design has undergone very little change and has proven prohibitively expensive to miniaturize

    Guh?!? Very little change?

    Electron microscope- 1931 []

    Phase contrast-1930's []

    Fluorescence microscopy- I don't know but well after the 16th century []

    Confocal microscopy- 1957 []

    2 photon microscopy-1960? []

    Total internal reflection fluorescence microscope- also don't know, at least after fluorescence microscopy []

    Inverted microscope- I don't know, but not too old []

    And considering the 16th century microscopes had but one lens and no artifical light sources, you won't find anything similar to that in a modern day lab. []

    • Something that the article left out and I think is an interesting applcication is that it would work well with UV and X-ray sources. It is difficult to make optics that don't block these short wavelengths.

    • by philspear ( 1142299 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2008 @03:37PM (#24407165)

      Well, the first part of my post, upon further inspection, is incorrect. It's poor reporting on the part of "device guru" to not include examples, but the researchers themselves do provide a nice picture of a c.elegans in one of the links. Called that one a bit early.

      So... sorry guys at caltech/ cal tech, if you happen to be reading. And guys from "device guru," shame on you (doesn't excuse me though.)

    • by pz ( 113803 )

      And considering the 16th century microscopes had but one lens and no artifical light sources, you won't find anything similar to that in a modern day lab. []

      Except, perhaps, a hand-held magnifying lens!

      Your list left off a few important advances ...

      SEM vs TEM (you mentioned electron microscope, but they're very different beasts)

      Darkfield microscopes.

      Atomic force microscopes.

      Tomographic microscopes (although I suppose confocals are as good an example of this class as any)

      X-ray diffraction microscopes.

      Gigapixel microscopes (very new approaches to making high resolution images that span macroscopic dimensions).

      Serial electron microscopes.

      Near-field optical microsc

      • Well, you know, given all the progress in microscopes I wasn't going to list all the different types that had been invented since Antony van Leeuwenhoek first looked at his sperm (which was obtained "fresh and not sinfully," so Mrs. van Leeuwenhoek deserves some credit there too.)

        That said, I can't belive I forgot AFM! A microscope based on touch is a revolution. I did think about SEM vs TEM, but only after I had already posted, and I think the wiki article probably mentioned both.

        Gigapixel microscopy I h

        • by pz ( 113803 )

          Gigapixel microscopy I haven't heard of. I'm assuming it's taking multiple pictures though?

          That's it. It's a technique that's so new that it doesn't have a fully accepted name yet (I'm just on the fringes of the field, so I might be a few months out of date). The idea was developed for electron microscopy, but could be easily adapted to light microscopy as well: put an automated stage in the beampath so that the sample can be shifted from place to place and a high resolution image captured at each stopping point, and then computationally stitch the tiles together. Sounds relatively straightfor

    • Don't forget Atomic Force Microscopy []

  • by ClosedEyesSeeing ( 1278938 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2008 @03:25PM (#24407007)
    a micro-microscope?
  • It *HAS* a lens! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2008 @03:36PM (#24407155) Homepage

    Just because it's not built from glass (which some may argue is also a liquid) does not make it any less of a lens.

    It's not lensless, it's a different kind of lens.

    • lens means 'bends light'
      There is no light bending going on here. You could use x-rays with this new technique without any difficulty.

      • Actually lens is from the Latin word for "lentil" - as in the legume.

        So it would be more accurate to say that there is nothing here shaped like a lentil.

        • Don't be a dweeb.

          A lens is an optical device with perfect or approximate axial symmetry which transmits and refracts light, converging or diverging the beam.


          • I reserve the right to be a dweeb on slashdot- that is part of its appeal after all. If you can't handle some dweebery perhaps you should be hanging out at a sports bar somewhere instead of this particular website.

            Either way- Of course the definition of the word "lens" is the one you so informatively supplied. My post was merely a barely funny joke centered around the etymology of that particular word.

            From the same wiki page you quoted:
            The word lens comes from the Latin name of the lentil, because a do

            • If your attempt at humor has failed, it is your failure, not mine.
              Effective humor is surprisingly difficult to achieve.
              BTW the first microscope lens was round, not lentil-shaped :p

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2008 @03:37PM (#24407161) Homepage

    I expected a new microscope to have some pictures to show...

  • and hot grits, I want to see her under one of these little beauties! No, I want to see her under a Beowulf cluster of them! Woot!
  • He didn't say "an optikon," he said "anopticon!"
  • Not quite the same as the article but close. Thought about this some time ago. Before some gomer patent troll patents this, here is the general idea in kit form to get it in the public domain.

    Take a board video camera and remove the lens assembly to expose the imaging surface on the chip. Assume your specimen is on a standard microscope slide with a cover glass. Turn slide over and place cover glass in contact with imaging surface on CCD chip. Shine light thru the microscope slide and view image on vid

  • "The project's director thinks devices based on it could be implanted directly into the human body, in order to achieve super zoom vision!"
  • Seems to me this is just generic beamforming or synthetic aperature.

    The idea is that a small object is sent down a micro-fluidic channel which passes over an array of sensors that take a repetitive sequence of "pictures" of it as it slowly moves down the channel (each of the M sensor takes say N pictures). All the "pictures" are later re-assembled as if they were taken at the same time with very small spatial displacement (instead of far apart in space and time). If you know the constant velocity V of the

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