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The Arisian Lens

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23 April 2018

 

With their invention in the 16th century, microscopes revolutionized science, allowing researchers to study objects too small to see with the naked eye. Unfortunately, the technology that enables microscopes’ ultra-fine resolution also makes them expensive, bulky, fragile, and difficult to use, largely limiting their use to within research labs. But an exciting spinoff technology from the Eberly College of Science’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics may offer a new alternative to traditional microscopes.

New innovation in the search for exoplanets

Penn State faculty member Suvrath Mahadevan and his then-graduate students Arpita Roy and Sam Halverson originally invented this technology for a completely unrelated purpose. The Mahadevan lab, primarily focused on the discovery of new exoplanets, or planets outside our own solar system, sought to optimize the already incredibly sensitive equipment used to detect small “wobbles” in distant stars. In their effort, Mahadevan, Roy, and Halverson developed the Arisian Lens, named after the eponymous technology in the Lensman science fiction books.

The Arisian Lens, which acts as a “scrambler” to distribute light within telescopes, was considerably more reliable and cheaper than previous technologies. Mahadevan and his team utilized this novel lens to develop instrumentation that has been widely adopted in the field and is now being included in the next generation of precision spectrographs for exoplanet discovery, including the Penn State–led Habitable Zone Planet Finder and NEID spectrograph.

ESTABLISHING THE RESOLUTION OF
THE ARISIAN LENS To determine the resolution limit of
the Arisian Lens, the Mahadevan team used a standard
created by the United States Air Force. Resolution is
determined by the largest set of three bars that a
system cannot distinguish. The Arisian Lens was able to
distinguish even the smallest group of bars, suggesting
that it has a resolution limit at, or below, 0.78μm.
Credit: Arpita Roy, Mahadevan Lab
ESTABLISHING THE RESOLUTION OF THE ARISIAN LENS To determine the resolution limit of the Arisian Lens, the Mahadevan team used a standard created by the United States Air Force. Resolution is determined by the largest set of three bars that a system cannot distinguish. The Arisian Lens was able to distinguish even the smallest group of bars, suggesting that it has a resolution limit at, or below, 0.78μm. Credit: Arpita Roy, Mahadevan Lab

Turning a smartphone into a microscope

One day, Roy used some downtime to perform a simple experiment. She used the Arisian Lens to look at a leaf she picked from outside the lab and found she could clearly see the leaf’s cells! This was completely unexpected, as a high-powered microscope is usually needed to see such details. Her observation suggested that the lens, originally created to find planets, could also serve as a portable microscope.

To further explore this capability, the inventors applied for and received a Lab Bench to Commercialization (LB2C) Grant. The LB2C program, co-sponsored by the Eberly College of Science and the Penn State Research Foundation, bridges the gap between basic scientific discoveries and market-ready products by providing funds for translational research.

The inventors used the LB2C Grant funds to develop a prototype for an Arisian Lens microscope. They created a 3D-printable device that can fit any smartphone and allows users to capture images via the smartphone’s native software. The prototype has an incredible resolution of less than a micron, or one thousandth of a millimeter. These results demonstrated that the Arisian Lens can convert any smartphone camera into a portable, versatile, and low-cost alternative to traditional light microscopes.

IMAGING BIOLOGICAL SAMPLES
USING THE ARISIAN LENS–ENABLED
SMARTPHONE MICROSCOPE The Arisian Lens–
Enabled Smartphone Microscope is capable of
differentiating between a number of human cell types
including erythrocytes (6–8μm), small lymphocytes
(7μm), and neutrophils (12–17μm). To prepare these
samples, blood was simply stained with fountain pen ink
and sandwiched between two layers of plastic wrap.
To image, the prototype was simply placed on top of
the plastic wrap. Images were captured via the native
smartphone software. Credit: Arpita Roy, Mahadevan Lab
IMAGING BIOLOGICAL SAMPLES USING THE ARISIAN LENS–ENABLED SMARTPHONE MICROSCOPE The Arisian Lens– Enabled Smartphone Microscope is capable of differentiating between a number of human cell types including erythrocytes (6–8μm), small lymphocytes (7μm), and neutrophils (12–17μm). To prepare these samples, blood was simply stained with fountain pen ink and sandwiched between two layers of plastic wrap. To image, the prototype was simply placed on top of the plastic wrap. Images were captured via the native smartphone software. Credit: Arpita Roy, Mahadevan Lab

Transforming education with the Arisian Lens

STEM education is an exciting beachhead application for Arisian Lens–enabled smartphone microscopes. While this technology is likely to appeal to STEM educators at any level, those in online higher education, including Penn State’s World Campus, could especially benefit from the technology.

Online-based college courses have become a major part of the education ecosystem, but online STEM classrooms still face unique challenges with providing hands-on laboratory experience to students in remote locations. For example, laboratory exercises for microbiology are especially difficult to design and teach without students having access to a compound microscope.

In order to provide excellent online STEM education, institutions need to provide students with high-quality microscopes that are affordable and easy to distribute—exactly the capabilities provided by the Arisian Lens. This technology may be the key advance needed to develop a portable learning lab, or “lab in a box,” for remote students.

Moving the Arisian Lens to market

During the LB2C grant program, the inventors consulted with Million Concepts, a small research and development company based in State College, Pennsylvania. The entrepreneurial team behind the company, Chase Million and Michael St. Clair, has experience in astronomy, education, image processing, and design and seemed well positioned to commercialize the Arisian Lens.

Million Concepts is currently continuing development of the lens in order to move it to a market-ready product. The company, additionally, is seeking educators interested in testing the technology or integrating it into their curriculum. If you are interested in learning more about the technology or Million Concepts, please contact million.concepts@gmail.com. —Melissa Long

For additional information about Penn State technologies or the Lab Bench to Commercialization Grant Program, please contact the Office for Innovation at innovation@science.psu.edu.