UCLA scientists have created a portable and lightweight imaging system that works with a smartphone to detect particles as small as 100 nanometers, which is smaller than single viruses such as influenza, rabies and HIV. It works by using molecules called fluorophores, which latch onto particles and glow when a blue laser shines upon them. The resulting light is then directed to the phone’s camera through a lens. Currently the device can only detect particles covered with hundreds of fluorophores, but it may soon be possible to detect single fluorophores. Details of the system were published last month in ACS Nano.
What’s the Big Idea?
Team member and UCLA electrical engineer Aydogan Ozcan says, “It is the first time that single nanoparticles and viruses have been detected using a cellphone-based field-portable imaging system.” Such a device could prove valuable not only for detecting viruses but for locating bacteria that could contaminate food or water. Further improvements could make it useful in forensics and air quality monitoring. Ozcan has founded a startup, Holomic, to help bring the system to market.