Dr. Ozcan’s LUCAS #1 innovation of 2011

January 1, 2012 The Scientist magazine announced today the winners of its 2011 Top 10 Innovations contest.  Here is what they said:

In its brief, 4-year history, The Scientist’s annual Top 10 Innovations contest has become a showcase of the coolest life science tools to emerge in the previous year. This year’s installment is no exception. We received more than 65 entries describing exciting new technologies and intriguing methodologies that made their way into labs in 2011.

Our panel of expert judges sifted through the submissions, and the cream of all these innovative products rose to the top. Björn Brembs, from the Freie Universität in Berlin, Medical University of Vienna neuronal cell biologist Michael Kiebler, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory biologist H. Steven Wiley, and Aris Persidis, president of Biovista, a pharmaceutical services company, combined forces to see that the very best of the entries were awarded this year’s prizes.

The Top 10 Innovations of 2011 include a number of the latest advances in microscopy—from a pocket microscope that can be connected to a cell phone’s optics to tools that smash the resolution limitations of traditional scopes, a neat tool to measure light exposure and circadian rhythms, and a first-of-its-kind 360-degree optical imager. Congratulations to all the winners of 2011’s Top 10 Innovations contest, and here’s to the researchers who will use these tools to break new scientific ground and expand our understanding of biology in the months and years to come.


Diagnosing malaria or other blood-borne illnesses used to require analyzing cell slides under a bulky, costly light microscope—which can be difficult to find in impoverished, remote locations. Enter LUCAS (Lensless, Ultra-wide-field Cell monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging), an easy-to-use, pocket-size holographic microscope that weighs less than 50g, uses inexpensive, off-the-shelf parts, and can be attached to a cell phone’s camera, making it ideal for diagnosing disease in isolated, developing countries.

“In resource-poor areas, you don’t have a hospital or any other infrastructure to conduct all these tests, so if you could simplify all this microscopy you could really have a huge impact,” says the microscope’s inventor, Aydogan Ozcan, an electrical engineer at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

LUCAS, which could cost as little as $10, illuminates cells with an inexpensive light-emitting diode, captures the shadows they cast, and then processes and recreates the image using an algorithm run on a remote computer. The translucent cells cast “textured” shadows that can reveal internal cell features such as malaria parasites. The microscope has submicrometer resolution but can image very large areas, Ozcan says. And because cell phone networks are ubiquitous, “even in an African village you can connect to a supercomputer in LA” to process the images, he adds.

Next year, Karin Nielsen, an infectious disease pediatrician at UCLA, will venture deep into the Amazon to compare the portable microscope’s ability to diagnose malaria with that of old-fashioned microscopy. Nielsen is also testing the microscope’s ability to diagnose anemia, low white blood cell count, and intestinal parasites in stool.