Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Scientists devise ‘Glowscope’ to bring fluorescent microscopy to schools


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Fluorescence Microscopy

Mains level: NA


Central idea: Researchers at Winona State University, Minnesota, have created a design for a rudimentary fluorescence microscope.

Why in news?

  • The development can be put together at a cost of $30-50 (Rs 2,500-4,100) using products purchased on online marketplaces.
  • The device aims to democratize access to fluorescence microscopy.

What is Fluorescence Microscopy?

  • An optical microscope views an object by studying how it absorbs, reflects or scatters visible light.
  • A fluorescence microscope views an object by studying how it reemits light that it has absorbed, i.e. how it fluoresces.
  • The object is illuminated with light of a specific wavelength.
  • Particles in the object absorb this light and reemit it at a higher wavelength.
  • These particles are called fluorophores; the object is infused with them before being placed under the microscope.

How does it work?

  • The setup consists of two plexiglass surfaces, an LED flashlight, three theatre stage-lighting filters, a clip-on macro lens, and a smartphone.
  • The smartphone (with the lens attached) is placed on one surface that is suspended at a height (say, a foot above).
  • The second sheet is placed below and holds the object.
  • One of the stage-lighting filters is held between the flashlight and the object and the other two were held between the object and the smartphone.
  • The sources of illumination were also LED flashlights emitting light of correspondingly different wavelengths.

Key observations

  • With this setup, the researchers were able to image the creatures’ brain, spinal cord, heart, and head and jaw bones.
  • They were able to zoom in and out using the smartphone camera and the clip-on lens.

How accessible is this?

  • Using a ‘glowscope’ still requires access to fluorophores, suitable biological samples, the know-how to combine the two, and some knowledge of physics to work out which LED flashlight to buy.
  • The Foldscope was truly remarkable because all its required components were simple to understand.
  • However, the fact that a simple fluorescent microscope can be set up with a few thousand rupees means researchers can prepare samples and take them to schools, where students can observe them.

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