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  • On-chip Microscope Developed
Jul 2008
PASADENA, Calif., July 29, 2008 -- Computer chip technology has been combined with microfluidics to create a tiny lenseless microscope small enough to fit on a fingertip and with magnifying power that rivals top optical microscopes. The high-resolution optofluidic microscope can use just sunlight for illumination and be mass-produced for around $10.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), who created the device, said it can be used in the field to analyze blood samples for malaria or check water supplies for giardia and other pathogens. Eventually, such microscope chips could be used in devices implanted inside the body.
An on-chip implementation of the optofluidic microscope. (Photo: Changhuei Yang, California Institute of Technology)
"The whole thing is truly compact -- it could be put in a cell phone -- and it can use just sunlight for illumination, which makes it very appealing for Third-World applications," said Changhuei Yang, assistant professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at Caltech, who developed the device, dubbed an optofluidic microscope, along with his colleagues at the institute.

The new instrument combines traditional computer chip technology with microfluidics, which is the channeling of fluid flow at incredibly small scales. An entire optofluidic microscope chip is about the size of a quarter, although the part of the device that images objects is only the size of Washington's nose on that quarter.

"Our research is motivated by the fact that microscopes have been around since the 16th century, and yet their basic design has undergone very little change and has proven prohibitively expensive to miniaturize. Our new design operates on a different principle and allows us to do away with lenses and bulky optical elements," said Yang.

To fabricate the chip, a layer of metal is coated onto a grid of charge-coupled device (CCD) sensor (the same sensors that are used in digital cameras). Then, a line of tiny holes, less than one-millionth of a meter in diameter, is punched into the metal, spaced five micrometers apart. Each hole corresponds to one pixel on the sensor array. A microfluidic channel, through which the liquid containing the sample to be analyzed will flow, is added on top of the metal and sensor array. The entire chip is illuminated from above; sunlight is sufficient.

When the sample is added, it flows -- either by the simple force of gravity or drawn by an electric charge -- horizontally across the line of holes in the metal. As cells or small organisms cross over the holes, one hole after another, the objects block the passage of light from above onto the sensor below. This produces a series of images, consisting of light and shadow, akin to the output of a pinhole camera.

Because the holes are slightly skewed, so that they create a diagonal line with respect to the direction of flow, the images overlap slightly. All of the images are then pieced together to create a surprisingly precise 2-D picture of the object.

Yang is now in discussion with biotech companies to mass-produce the chip. The platform into which the chip is integrated can vary depending upon the needs of the user. For example, health workers in rural areas could carry cheap, compact models to test individuals for malaria, and disposable versions could be carried into the battlefield.

"We could build hundreds or thousands of optofluidic microscopes onto a single chip, which would allow many organisms to be imaged and analyzed at once," said Xiquan Cui, the lead graduate student on the project.

In the future, the microscope chips could be incorporated into devices that are implanted into the human body. "An implantable microscope analysis system can autonomously screen for and isolate rogue cancer cells in blood circulation, thus providing important diagnostic information and helping arrest the spread of cancer," said Yang.

The paper, "Imaging microorganisms with a high resolution on-chip optofluidic microscope," was published July 28 in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Yang's co-authors are graduate students Xiquan Cui and Lap Man Lee; postdoctoral research associates Xin Heng and Weiwei Zhong; Paul W. Sternberg, the Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor of Biology and an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and Demetri Psaltis, the Thomas G. Myers Professor of Electrical Engineering at Caltech.

The work was funded by DARPA's Center for Optofluidic Integration at Caltech, the Wallace Coulter Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

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The general term for the application of light to a subject. It should not be used in place of the specific quantity illuminance.
An instrument consisting essentially of a tube 160 mm long, with an objective lens at the distant end and an eyepiece at the near end. The objective forms a real aerial image of the object in the focal plane of the eyepiece where it is observed by the eye. The overall magnifying power is equal to the linear magnification of the objective multiplied by the magnifying power of the eyepiece. The eyepiece can be replaced by a film to photograph the primary image, or a positive or negative relay...
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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