Safe Water? Ask the Smartphone

Click here to listen to this podcast

A virtual cottage industry has emerged around finding innovative uses for smartphones, well beyond basic calling, texting and Internet access. In particular, there’s been a lot of interest in turning iPhones into something like the Star Trek medical tricorder.

For example, University of Illinois researchers are developing an app and cradle-like device that makes the iPhone a biosensor. The key is the smartphone’s camera and processing power combined with the lenses and filters located in the cradle.

Just put a sample of what you want to study on a slide and insert it into the cradle. The iPhone screen indicates a shift in wavelength when the cradle’s photonic crystal detects toxins, proteins, bacteria, viruses or other biological materials on the slide. The researchers published in the journal Lab on a Chip. [Dustin Gallegos et al., Label-free biodetection using a smartphone]

Imagine using a smartphone to tell if there are toxins in harvested corn and soybeans or pathogens in a water supply. That’s a handy tool that lowers the cost of medical fieldwork. Plus, when you’re done, it’s easy to call in the results.

—Larry Greenemeier

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

Follow Scientific American on Twitter @SciAm and @SciamBlogs.
Visit for the latest in science, health and technology news.

© 2013 All rights reserved.