Want to get kids doing science? Harness their iPhones.

At the American Society for Cell Biology Annual Meeting in San Francisco, Eva Schmid, a postdoctoral researcher in bioengineering and biophysics at the University of California,

Berkeley, outlined a way for middle school students to use the CellScope, a diagnostic-quality microscope invented by the university's Daniel Fletcher. The microscope is designed to work with smartphones. Slide an iPhone into the specially designed cradle, turn on the camera app and vóila, you have a microscope that can magnify at anywhere from 80x to 1200x. Schmid told Discovery News the team has also designed a version for the iPad.

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This is a perfect solution for biology classrooms, especially in schools that often don't

have a microscope available for each student. Schmid and her team tested the CellScope at the

San Francisco Friends School for a year. The

middle schoolers took pictures of objects around them, both with the microscope

and without. The images were displayed in real time on the phone's touch screen

and were viewed simultaneously by multiple people so the students could talk

about them with teachers. The kids even geotagged the photos and set up a map here.

The Fletcher Lab has also developed two other,

similar devices to the CellScope — an otoscope (the thing a doctor looks into your ear with) and

a dermascope, which can look at skin cells closely. The lab staff originally saw

it as a way to get good equipment to developing countries, but Schmid also realized

that there was a need in classrooms in the United States, too.

Schmid said the image quality is every bit as good as the typical binocular microscopes, which was important for using them as diagnostic tools in developing nations. It isn't quite practical yet to equip every school with one — the cost for each unit is a few hundred dollars — but that should come down once they are mass-produced.

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The CellScope is similar to the Magnifi,

a Kickstarter project that raised its funding earlier this year. The

difference is the CellScope is designed specifically for microscopy,

using additional optics. Magnifi simply aligns the phone's camera over

an eyepiece.

Credit: University of Caifornia Berkeley