Engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a wedge-shaped cradle that turns any iPhone into a sophisticated biosensor that can detect and analyze bacteria, toxins, proteins, viruses, and other molecules using the phone’s built-in camera and processing capabilities. The iPhone’s GPS can even help to map the spread of pathogens and provide on-site evaluations of environmental conditions.
You may have already suspected that your iPhone was capable of almost anything. Emailing, gaming, snapshots, video recording, satellite mapping-it certainly can accomplish an amazing number of tasks. Now, with just a little augmentation, it is also possible for your smartphone to function as a high-end biosensor for a fraction of the price.
The cradle includes a number of lenses and filters found in more expensive and much larger medical devices. Comparable spectrophotometers can run upwards of $50,000 while the U of I device is expected to cost around $200. Operating around a photonic crystal, the object acts like a mirror that only reflects a certain wavelength of light while the remainder of the wavelength passes through. When a biological element attaches to the crystal, the reflected color will shift from a shorter to longer wavelength. The biosensor allows a standard microscope slide covered with a photonic material to be inserted and analyzed. An application walks the user through a step-by-step process that takes only a couple of minutes.
Lightweight and portable, the biosensor can easily be taken into the field for testing and removes the need for samples to be sent back to a lab for processing. The researchers are working on improving the manufacturing process for iPhone and towards developing a cradle for Android platforms. With the aid of a NSF grant, the team is refining its multi-mode biosensor to for use in medicine, food safety, and ecosystem monitoring. Along with the Scanadu medical stats device, Star Trek-style handheld assessment technology is very much a contemporary reality.