Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have developed a compact, high-resolution microscope small enough to fit on a finger tip. Dubbed an optofluidic microscope, the device operates without lenses but has the magnifying power of a top-quality optical microscope. It can be used in the field to analyze samples or water supplies, and can be mass-produced for around $10.

The instrument combines traditional computer-chip technology with microfluidics - the channeling of fluid flow at incredibly small scales. An entire optofluidic microscope chip is about the size of a quarter. "The whole thing is truly compact - it could be put in a cell phone - and it can use just sunlight for illumination," said Changhuei Yang, assistant professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at Caltech.

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. "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.

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