Smartphone cameras have improved a lot in recent years. They even have passable macro modes for focusing on tiny thing. If you want to focus on really small stuff, you’re going to need some additional hardware. Aydogan Ozcan, a professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at UCLA has created a smartphone attachment weighing less than half a pound that can detect objects far smaller than the human eye can, including viruses and synthetic nanoparticles.It is extremely difficult to get clear images of the smallest of the small because the wavelength of light is too long. Doing that with an inexpensive mobile device is even harder. Equipment like the scanning electron microscope is massive and extremely expensive. The device developed by Ozcan is a fluorescent microscope, the body of which was 3D printed. The contraption uses a laser diode, which is directed at samples at a steep angle of roughly 75 degrees. This prevents the scattered light from interfering with the visual data.The prototype device basically straps on to the back of a phone and lines up with the camera module. This isn’t just a device you can whip out of your pocket and snap a picture of viruses, though. You have to load the sample on a special tray and keep the device stationary to acquire a good image. When done correctly, the mobile sensor can produce images very similar to a scanning electron microscope.Ozcan’s team used the mobile fluorescent microscope to capture images of the human cytomegalovirus (CMV), which is about 150-300nm in size. CMV is one of the larger viruses, but still tiny. Researchers were also able to detect 100nm nanoparticles marked with polystyrene beads.Ozcan believes this approach could bring advanced imaging technology to more places, even those without reliable electricity No one can yet estimate how much a production version of the device would cost, but it would probably be far less than a scanning electron microscope and just a little more portable too.