Two more technology stories left over from my trip to San Francisco:

A team at UCLA have spent the last few years developing microscopes that don’t use lenses to do their magnifying, relying instead on something closer to holography to get the job done. Among other advantages, this allows a functional microscope to be small enough to be slotted onto a modern cell phone and use the phone’s camera to record the images; and that in turn allows meaningful microscopy to potentially be done on a cell phone just about anywhere. This is “telemedicine,” and it could be huge. Case in point: images of malaria-infected red blood cells taken in the field, fed into an online system and presented to volunteer observers around the world for them to visually sift through. The real trick is making people want to get involved in such an exercise, and accommodating the fact that they might not be any good at it. The answer: turn it into a game.

OCT is not recent technology; it’s already ubiquitous for looking at the structure of the retina to a depth of a millimetre or two, among other things. But millimetres was more or less the technique’s limit. Tweaking things so that the same method can image over distances measured in centimetres, taking an image of, say, the entire eye from front to back, is a big step forward. The idea of extending the range even further, over meters of free space, seems almost ridiculous; but that could be on the way too.

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