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Photos: These tiny $17 lenses can turn your smartphone into a microscope

These images show what a smartphone can achieve as a microscope, using the 1.5mm-thick Blips lenses from Italian startup Smart Micro Optics.

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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 10 Raffaele Mastrolonardo/ZDNet

Apple stalk

You've probably seen hundreds or maybe thousands of these -- but you usually cannot appreciate the tiny details on an apple stalk.

This closeup was achieved with a Blips Macro, one of the two microscopic lenses for smartphones developed by the Italian startup Smart Micro Optics. The green background is the Granny Smith apple to which the stalk belongs.

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2 of 10 Raffaele Mastrolonardo/ZDNet

Blue jeans

No, this is not a portion your woolen pullover. These are your blue jeans seen through Blips Macro, which allows you to appreciate the weave at a microscopic level with your smartphone.

The lens adheres to the phone camera's glass through electrostatic attraction. To enhance the stability of Blips, two reusable bands of adhesive tape, designed to stick to any surface, are placed on the supporting flexible film.

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3 of 10 Raffaele Mastrolonardo/ZDNet

Eye of a needle

If you look at a needle with the help of a Blips lens, the chances of a camel and, consequently, those of the rich entering heaven might seem to increase. Smart Micro Optics, the company that produces Blips, is a spinoff from the Italian Institute of Technology.

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4 of 10 Smart Micro Optics

Just 1.5mm thick

The Blips lenses make a smartphone just 1.5mm thicker, which means that the user shouldn't feel any difference. Blips are fairly intuitive to mount and easy to use, although they require some practice to understand how to focus on an object. The best option is to get as close as you can with your camera and then slowly gain some distance.

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5 of 10 Smart Micro Optics

Dandelion seed head

The seed head of dandelion look pretty different if seen with your smartphone empowered by a Blips Micro lens. Smart Micro Optics, the company that produces Blips, was founded in 2016 by Andrea Antonini and Tommaso Fellin while they were both working at the Italian Institute of Technology. Now Antonini is a full-time entrepreneur.

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6 of 10 Smart Micro Optics

Blips Micro

Blips Micro achieves a resolution of less than four microns. Unlike its companion, Blips Macro, it is best used with the help of a prepared slide that allows the user to focus on what they are looking at, such as this red onion.

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Four-micron resolution

A flea head on a prepared slide observed with a Blips Micro lens. Smart Micro Optics has conducted a crowdfunding campaign on the Kickstarter platform.

For as little as €15, users have been able to pre-order a package with a pair of lenses: Blips Macro with a resolution of about eight microns which allows high-resolution photos or videos of insects, and Blips Micro whose resolution can be even less than four microns, which allows observations that can reach the cellular level.

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Pocket microscope

The mouth of a honey bee observed with a Blips Micro lens on a prepared slide. "Our dream is to put a high-performance microscope in everyone's pocket, opening up opportunities for people to learn science or simply having fun in discovering first person the world at the micro-scale," Andrea Antonini, co-founder of Smart Micro Optics, tells ZDNet.

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9 of 10 Raffaele Mastrolonardo/ZDNet

Sharp objects

From this closeup, this particular item doesn't look too sharp but that is because of the magnification. We suggest you don't press your finger down too hard on this object because what you're looking at is a rose's thorn.

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10 of 10 Smart Micro Optics

Better refractive index

A piece of human skin with its hair as seen through a Blips Macro lens. Smart Micro Optics has declined to reveal many details about materials and processes used in the production of the lenses.

All they say is that they are made of various kinds of plastic, which provide a better refractive index than silicone, a material often used in other similar products already on the market.

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