New smartphone water quality technology tests for pathogens

Posted 24 November 2016

Smartphone water quality technology'Citizen scientists' could drastically improve mapping of water quality issues with an inexpensive smartphone attachment and commercially available water test kits.

Researchers at the University of Houston (UH) have developed technology that will allow members of the public to test for waterborne pathogens using a smartphone.

“The goal is to have citizens help to investigate and monitor water quality near where they live, while educating people about potential threats in environmental or drinking water,” said UH Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Wei-Chuan Shih.

“Almost everyone has a smartphone. Our goal is simple components that work with commercially available test kits, so people can order what they need to engage in this activity."

The UH technology has two components. The first is purportedly the world's first 3D-printed smartphone microscope lens – the DotLens – which sells for US$12.99 and sticks to the front of your smartphone camera.

The second component is a 3D-printed attachment that provides a narrow-band light source that can be fine-tuned to make different pathogens visible under magnification.

The technology aims to allow people using commercial water testing kits to see and identify waterborne pathogens – initially Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum.

But by changing the light spectrum, the same system could later be used for other water contaminants, including lead, Shih said.

Ultimately, he hopes citizen scientists will post and share their findings to create a detailed online map of contaminants.

"This is like completing a puzzle with a community of citizen scientists who share similar interests," he said.