back to article Boffins turns landfill WinPhones into microscopes

Four University of Houston researchers say ordinary phone cameras can be turned into microscopes comparable with a US$15,000 device, by using lenses worth three cents apiece . Yu-Lung Sung, Jenn Jeang, Chia-Hsiung Lee, and Wei-Chuan Shih created a budget lens able to hone in on human skin to a magnification level of 120 using …

  1. the spectacularly refined chap

    Utter garbage...

    ..not the El Reg reporting of this, but the claims made in the first instance.

    So you add this lens to a cheap camera phone and it functions identically to a $20,000 microscope. Adding a single lens does not add:

    • illumination
    • a precision focuser
    • variable magnification
    • trinocular viewing
    and so on. All absolutely necessary for a practical instrument, all add appreciably to the price, and none of them are catered for here.

    Even the test chosen seems hand-picked to sound impressive while being nothing of the sort. Viewing prepared slides at ~100x is among the easiest jobs you can ask a microscope to do - you don't have the depth of field issues affecting the stereos at even lower magnifications and you don't need the same correction for aberations as at higher power on slides. Picking this one test is akin to that scene in Top Gear - "At 40MPH this £7,000 city car easily overtakes that £250,000 supercar travelling at 30MPH" - the test is so far removed from the advanced capabilities you are paying for as to make the comparison meaningless.

    Somewhere in here there may be some small development of merit, but so many layers of bullshit have been piled on top of it - whether by the original authors or the university press department - that you ultimately end up throwing out the whole lot as nonsense.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Utter garbage...

      Tacking a lens onto a smartphone is not exactly news either (as shown in El Reg's article, and it takes about a second to find kits on Amazon) so I'm not entirely understanding why this is such a big deal.

      It can't be because someone has found a use for WinPhones, I hope :)

      1. Ole Juul
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Utter garbage...

        It can't be because someone has found a use for WinPhones, I hope :)

        That does appear to be the case.

        Can we get this story moved to Bootnotes please?

    2. petur

      Re: Utter garbage...

      Furthermore, their price does not include the time and energy (R&D) spent by them to develop the lens, or the manufacturing equipment.

      On the other hand, I'm pretty sure the profits on those expensive microscopes are pretty good.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Utter garbage...

      Indeed. Just to take the illumination point alone. Microscope illumination isn't just providing a light source. It's a complete optical sub-system in its own right and its performance and correct adjustment are essential in getting the best resolution from the viewing optics.

      1. Omgwtfbbqtime

        @Doctor Syntax

        You are an Olympus sales rep and I claim my five pounds!

        Yup... getting my coat.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: @Doctor Syntax

          Nope. Just an old microscopist. And anyway Leitz were my preferred microscopes.

    4. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Utter garbage...

      Genuine questions:

      How many $20,000 microscopes are spending the majority of their time looking at prepared slides?

      How many more slides would we look at if microscope were in every pocket?

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. DragonLord

      They could always up the price and put them on a Lumia 1020 which can save images as dng files at 41mp. But that would be a £400 phone rather than a sub £100 phone.

      1. Little Mouse

        But maybe they could offset some of that extra expense by using real honey instead of a honey-like substance?

        Total immerison. It's the only way to be sure.

    2. mad physicist Fiona

      Although a cheap microscope device like this might be quite useful for anyone who wants to get into analysing de-capped chips on a tight budget - that is to say, burning the top off of an IC with acid to physically look inside and read out firmware, etc...

      Not really, given that feature sizes on ICs have been under the wavelength of visible light for more than twenty years now. That means that you can't see the features with any optical instrument even in theory, yet alone with a low end device such as this. Reverse engineering of ICs has always been a job for electron microscopy.

    3. Never Ready

      "burning the top off of an IC with acid to physically look inside and read out firmware, etc..."

      Plastic packages... impervious to acid.

      Ceramic packages... impervious to acid.

      Silicon wafers inside... destroyed by acid instantly.

      That's without even considering the details are far too small to even hope of making out with this as already mentioned above.

    4. dbtx


      Come on, you've all heard 'pics or it didn't happen', right? Well, pics and it did happen. You likely won't get firmware out of an EEPROM block but mask ROMs can be pretty obvious (last image). Granted there are features which are beyond optical resolution but not all chips are made with those processes. I can't find a statement but these photos are very likely made with something more expensive than a laser pointer lens glued to a smartphone (their absurdly-high-res shot of a flatbed scanner CCD can't fit into a valid JPEG). However, that shouldn't keep the smarter poor kids from trying.

  3. Bob Vistakin

    They chose ms to keep the NSA happy

    Remember, ms and open source have an interesting history regarding medical.

    All your DNA belong to us.

    1. RyokuMas Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: They chose ms to keep the NSA happy

      All your DNA belong to us.

      By "us" - and given the spin you typically put on your posts - I assume you mean Google...

      1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

        Re: They chose ms to keep the NSA happy

        Actually, he could be wrong this time.

        It is apparently Apple who may be the assisting party..

  4. tony2heads

    Real story

    Microscopes are overpriced - news at 10

  5. FartingHippo


    Ooooh x120. How ... utterly unimpressive.

    How about this x400 USB scope, yours for a princley £39.95

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: Crap

        "Online chat can also be achieved with the microscope's built in webcam and record features."

        Yeah, but how many amoebae do you know that want to talk to each other?

        1. lawndart

          Re: Crap

          I find amoebic chat is thoroughly absorbing.

          1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

            Re: Crap

            Yup, it's positively protozoan!

  6. illiad

    NOT 'just an inkhjet'... :(

    " a computer programmable syringe pump with the ability to print with PDMS ink, suspended on a semiautomated stage placed a constant and controlled height above a temperature-controllable hotplate"

    well the other link did not need a chemical lab with a fancy inkjet addon!!! - just some plexiglas, led lights, and nuts and bolts...

  7. duhmb

    um.... Seen it already?

    Last year. ANU. Canberra. They made them in the oven from memory. ;-)

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    What a load of bollocks

    "It is the equivalent of an Olympus IX-70 microscope currently selling used for above $10,000 and sold retail for $28,000 machine in 2008."

    That microscope is an inverted microscope with fluorescence and phase contrast and high NA dry objectives with correction collars. It's not just a run-of-the-mill bench microscope.

    The fluorescence side needs not only suitable light sources but a series of filters, preferably with very sharp cut-offs.

    The phase side needs special elements inserted into both objectives and condensers with a mechanism to align the two.

    The high numerical aperture lenses are highly corrected for chromatic and spherical aberration and working at such high NA makes such corrections dependant on the thickness of the individual specimen mounts; variations on these are compensated by a correction collar which is rotated to make small adjustments inside the objective. It'll approach about 1000 times useful magnification. The article mentions their toy achieving 120 times.

  9. Dick Pountain

    The Olympus microscope has a lovely smile though

  10. Ole Juul

    IT vs microscopy

    Nice to see that there are at least a few people here who have a clue. But I hope nobody from the biological sciences comes by and reads some of the other comments. Truly embarrassing.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: IT vs microscopy

      "But I hope nobody from the biological sciences comes by"

      Too late, I'm here.

  11. Cliff

    Microscopy for fun

    I got a surprisingly good notional 150x illuminated pocket microscope for $20 from the far east - using it on a phone screen you can focus on either the surface scratches, or LED's (yep you can see each quite clearly). Admittedly you don't get to take photos, but absolutely great for banknote details, human hairs, etc.

  12. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    Past tense

    The Indiegogo campaign ended months ago. The new one is for a 15X lens at kickstarter.

    My guess is the crew ran out of beer money and are starting over with less ambitious goals.

  13. LINCARD1000

    Just playing "spawn of satan's" advocate here for a moment - it might not be the professional's tool of choice for serious lab work, granted. Wouldn't this be the ideal sort of thing for the developing world or in remote/rough locations where lugging around professional-grade kit isn't recommended or an option, however?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      @ LINCARD1000

      Good question. But what do would you want to use a microscope for in such locations?

      Education would be one possibility and at school level this approach might be useful.

      If, however, you were interested in, say, medical diagnosis you'd probably want something more like regular bench microscope optics. For this you'd need to look at something which ruggedised such optics and for that the McArthur microscope would be a better approach.

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