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Cradle Turns Smartphone Into Handheld Biosensor

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A tricorder prop, as used on the television show "Star Trek."

A new smartphone cradle and app enable the device to detect toxins, bacteria, and viruses, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Credit: ThinkGeek

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers have developed a cradle and app that uses a smartphone’s built-in camera and processing power as a biosensor to detect toxins, proteins, bacteria, viruses, and other molecules.

"We’re interested in biodetection that needs to be performed outside of the laboratory," says Illinois professor Brian Cunningham. He also notes smartphones "have really powerful computing capability and imaging. A lot of medical conditions might be monitored very inexpensively and non-invasively using mobile platforms like phones."

The cradle holds the phone's camera in alignment with a series of optical components, which the researchers note are usually found in much larger and more expensive laboratory devices. Although the cradle holds only about $200 of optical components, it performs as accurately as a large $50,000 spectrophotometer in the lab, making the device portable and affordable for fieldwork in developing nations.

The researchers are collaborating with other groups across the University of Illinois to explore applications for the phone-based biosensor. "It’s our goal to expand the range of biological experiments that can be performed with a phone and its camera being used as a spectrometer," Cunningham says.

From University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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