John Tolley, April 10, 2018

Calculator. Computer. Stereo. Camera. Baby Monitor. Fitness Monitor. Clock. Calendar. Dictaphone. Carpenter?s Level. Compass. Beat Lab. Video Editor. Electronic Train Ticket. Office Door Key. White Noise Machine. Pizza Delivery Enabler.

Oh, and it?s my phone.

There?s not much we don?t use our mobile devices for these days, and it seems like every other week and new and novel function of the tiny technology rolls out.

Recently Northwestern University researchers created an innovative method of 3D printing capable of producing minute lenses that convert a mobile phone camera into a relatively powerful microscope. It?s a vast leap forward in both the production of lenses and the art of 3D printing, said associate professor of mechanical engineering Cheng Sun, speaking with Northwestern Now.

?Up until now, we relied heavily on the time-consuming and costly process of polishing lenses,? said Sun, whose lab developed the 3D printing process. ?With 3D printing, now you have the freedom to design and customize a lens quickly.?

Sun and his team constructed their first round of lenses using traditional, layered 3D-printing techniques, but quickly found that the process yielded surface roughness that interfered with the image. Wanting to maintain the speed afforded to them through this printing method, they soon hit upon a model that involves both layering and polishing to produce a smooth and accurate lens.

While still in the refining phase, the team is hopeful that their process of quickly printing high-quality lenses will open the door to a variety of uses, from research imaging to medical diagnostics. To learn more about the work being done in Sun?s lab, follow the link above.