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Optics+Photonics 2015: Cell phone evolution ‘democratizes’ diagnostic tools

18 Aug 2015

Rapid improvement of mobile technology is enabling economical, high-tech sensing to reach developing markets.

The massive growth in mobile phone use in recent years, which has now reached many billions of users worldwide, has driven significant quality and performance improvements of the hardware, software and high-end imaging and sensing technologies embedded in the phones.

According to a plenary presentation at last week’s Optics+Photonics conference in San Diego, Ca, by Professor Aydogan Ozcan, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and California NanoSystems Institute, “this rapid evolution has transformed the mobile phone into a cost-effective and yet extremely powerful platform to perform economically applications such as biomedical tests and scientific measurements that would normally require advanced laboratory instruments.”

Professor Ozcan described some of the emerging applications and the future opportunities and challenges created by mobile phones and other consumer electronics devices as well as their embedded components for the development of next-generation imaging, sensing, diagnostics and measurement tools through computational photonics techniques.

”This rapidly evolving trend on the use of mobile phones and other consumer electronics devices including wearable computers, in advanced imaging and sensing is helping us transform current practices of medicine, engineering and sciences through democratization of measurement science and empowerment of citizen scientists, educators and researchers in resource-limited settings.”

He told the conference, “My research is focused on the use of computation/algorithms to create new optical microscopy, sensing, and diagnostic techniques, significantly improving existing tools for probing micro- and nano-objects while also simplifying the designs of these analysis tools.”

Field medicine and education

Professor Ozcan introduced a range of computational microscopes which use lens-free, on-chip imaging to replace traditional lenses with holographic reconstruction algorithms. This design allows 3D images of specimens to be reconstructed from their “shadows”, providing considerably improved field-of-view and depth-of-field, thus enabling large sample volumes to be rapidly imaged, even at nanoscale.

He explained, “These new computational microscopes can easily generate up to 2 giga-pixel images, which can identify even single viruses with a field of view that is typically 100-fold wider than other field techniques. At the heart of this significant improvement in performance are self-assembled liquid nano-lenses that are computationally imaged on a chip.

"The field-of-view of these computational microscopes is equal to the active-area of the sensor-array, easily reaching, for example, 20 mm2 or10cm2, by employing state-of-the-art CMOS or CCD imaging chips, respectively.“

New sensing architectures

He explained that his research group at UCLA is working to introduce “fundamentally new imaging and sensing architectures” to compensate in the digital domain for the lack of complexity of optical components to address the requirements of telemedicine to solve various global health problems. “Through innovation, we aim to create photonics-based telemedicine technologies for next-generation smart global health systems,” he said.

“All of this is essentially enabled by the rapid growth of our CMOS technologies. Thanks to consumers buying more mobiles, more frequently, this is allowing us to roughly double every two years the size of economical images; now up to 40 mega-pixesls in size. By using these 40 megapixel imagers on smart phones, field researchers are able to look at individual viruses, and even look at DNA molecules.

“To sum up, this is where the democratization angle comes into play because some of these relatively economical devices could also open up exciting new opportunities for educators for medical personnel.”

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org.

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