We use smartphones to talk, chat, play, and, by getting directions, explore the world we walk or drive through. Very soon, thanks to an Italian startup, we will also be able to use smartphones to explore the micro-world.
Smart Micro Optics, a spin-off from the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), has developed a set of two lenses called Blips that transform virtually any mobile device’s camera into a digital microscope that can magnify subjects up to 30 times, or 80 times using the zoom.
That magnification means one can take high-resolution pictures or shoot videos of an insect as small as a dust mite or, with the help of a prepared slide, count the red blood cells in a blood sample.
“Our dream is to put a high-performance microscope in everyone’s pocket, opening up opportunities for people to learn science or simply having fun in discovering firsthand the world at the micro-scale,” Andrea Antonini, who co-founded Smart Micro Optics with his former IIT boss Tommaso Fellin, tells Fabtechnoid.
The size of a lentil, Blips are, according to its creators, the thinnest microscope lenses for smartphones and tablets in the world, as they add just 1.5mm of thickness to the device
“They can be permanently placed over the camera’s lens or simply left attached to the back or front side of the phone ready for use,” says Antonini, who has at least five Blips stuck to the rear of his Samsung S3.
Antonini, a physicist, started Smart Micro Optics while he was working at the department of Neuroscience and Brain Technologies at the IIT, where he researched how to apply nanostructure technologies to optics for neuroscientists.
“Smartphones were not what we were focusing on but I thought it could be fun to make something for everyday use out of what I was researching,” he says.
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