Researchers at the Australian National University have created an inexpensive 3D printed lens that can attach to a smartphone and detect some skin diseases.
Traditionally, lenses are manufactured by using a grinding and polishing method, or through the pouring of gel materials into pre-fabricated molds. While these methods have been very effective, they’re also quite complex and expensive.
To bypass this costly construction ANU researchers began exploring how clear liquids can bend light and act as a lens when stabilized. Remarkably, through their research the ANU team developed a completely new method for manufacturing lenses that requires only an oven, a silicon polymer and a glass slide.
In a modest tone, lead researcher Dr. Steve Lee stated, “What I did was to systematically fine-tune the curvature that's formed by a simple droplet with the help of gravity, and without any molds.”
To be specific, Lee’s process places a droplet of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) on the face of a glass slide. Once placed, the slide is baked at 70 degrees Celsius until it’s hardened. After the first droplet of PDMS has been cured, another dose of PDMS is planted on top of the cured material and the slide is flipped and baked a second time. Using gravity and PDMS’ surface tension a millimeters thick parabolic lens is created. What’s more, the lens has a magnification power of 160x and a resolution of 4 microns, all for the bargain basement price of two-dollars.
Given it’s ability to fit directly over the lens of a smartphone’s camera, the ANU lens could lead to better and more widespread diagnosis of a number of skin diseases that plague poorer parts of the planet. But even if the ANU lens doesn’t make it to full-scale, mass-manufactured production, it’s method of production is proof that precision optics don’t necessarily have to carry an enormous price tag.
Image Courtesy of ANU