By Marsha Lewis, Inside Science

From the classrooms to research facilities a cell phone could morph into a portable science lab.

"If we could use a cellphone as a microscope that would be a very cheap and cost effective way to solve a number of our problems," said Thomas Larson, a mechanical engineering graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle and inventor of the Micro Phone Lens.

The idea came to Larson while he was working in the lab at the University of Washington.

"We’re using microscopes a lot!" said Larson.

Large, high-powered microscopes can see anywhere from 50- to 400-times magnification, but typically an "entire microscope system costs about two and a half thousand dollars," said Larson.

A magnified image is displayed on an iPad screen. Credit: Thomas Larson, University of Washington

Larson developed a tiny lens that costs just one cent to make creating a handheld smartphone microscope.

"I just go into camera mode – nothing fancy – stick the lens on and it’s on there," explained Larson.

The microphone lens is centered in a soft plastic that sticks right to a smartphone, smart tablet, computer and web camera without any glue.

"There are three rubber feet around the lens, so by simply pressing the lens against the microscope slide you can bring it in and out of focus," said Larson.

This lens can magnify up to 150 times. Larson is already working with doctors to detect cancers, and it could be used in developing nations where ready access to a lab is hard to come by.

"You could have a volunteer with the cellphone screen for parasites, screen for blood diseases…" said Larson.

A simple, small microscope that could change the way we see the world.

Larson is already selling a less powerful lens at fifteen times the magnification. For $15 a lens, Larson’s hope is to get students engaged in science, using their phones for more than texting and talking.  A 150-times magnification lens for about $30 will be available to consumers in September 2014.

Reprinted with permission from Inside Science, an editorially independent news product of the American Institute of Physics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing, promoting and serving the physical sciences.

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California. She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.