Researchers at the Urbana Illinois University have developed a cradle and an app for the iPhone transforming it into a Bio Lab.
The cradle and app are using the iPhone camera and processing capability transforming it into a biosensor to detect toxins, proteins, bacteria, viruses and other molecules.
The bio sensing is made possible by a photonic crystal. This crystal lets pass just on wavelength so that when anything biological attaches to the photonic crystal the reflected wavelength will be an indication of the bio substance that has attached to the crystal. This bio substance can be a protein, a cell, a bacteria, a virus.
The bio sensor cannot detect “any” bio molecule, it has to be primed to react to a specific target. For that a normal microscope slide is coated with photonic material that can “detect” the desired molecule.
This photonic crystal slide is inserted in the cradle and the iPhone camera (the app using the camera) measures the spectrum. The reflected wavelength shows up as a black gap in the spectrum. Then the measure is repeated without the microscope slide inserted and the degree of shift in the reflected wavelength indicates the amount of target molecule in the sample.
The resulting bio-sensing device is not as precise as a lab measurement but it can provide information that is not available in the lab: one can measure in real time and in several places the presence of a molecule, a toxin, using the iPhone GPS to localise the sample and this can give a good indication of the spreading, as well as the origin of a given bio molecule.
Clearly this is not for the every day user. It is a tool for bio specialists. But over time I can see that more and more sensors will become available for smart phones making detection of certain substances an everyday experience for everyone of us. We would actually refer to our phone, and be warned by it, for detecting allergenic substances or specific bacteria that may be dangerous given a specific health care problem we can suffer from.