Eighteen months ago, Andy Miller, a senior at Rice University in Houston, used common parts to invent a lightweight, portable microscope. Battery-operated and weighing only 2 and 1/2 pounds, it has been shown to perform as successful in diagnosing tuberculosis as $40,000 microscopes in hospitals. Cost? Only $220.00.
Carried on site, this low-tech, portable invention will give healthcare workers in developing countries the ability to diagnose disease much faster.
Miller, a bioengineering student, had spent a year in Barcelona. When he returned to Rice, he asked a professor for a design project. Since a team at Rice had been working on a "backpack diagnostic lab," he was asked to build a microscope that could take rough handling, be small enough to fit in a backpack, yet still have the magnification required for diagnostic use. A plus would be if he could make it cheap.
He took the assignment to heart and succeeded in all areas. His working model used flashlights for illumination. The hard plastic shell had a 3D printer and a shelf for a cell phone to slide and capture images to email to labs. The result? The Global Focus Microscope.
Small enough to fit in a lunch box and with 5 screws to attach the shell to the body, it magnifies 1000 times. When tested, it had a 98.4 percent success rate compared to a hospital's sophisticated instruments.
In countries where adequate healthcare and testing facilities can be great distances from towns and villages, this microscope will allow people to be tested and treated much sooner. Since more than a million people die of TB each year in Africa, Asia, and South America, this microscope may prove to be a miracle that can mean the difference between life and death.
Miller didn't name his invention, currently in production, the Miracle Microscope, but perhaps he should have.