Pocket MUSE: an affordable, versatile and high performance fluorescence microscope using a smartphone

Yehe Liu, Andrew M. Rollins, Richard M. Levenson, Farzad Fereidouni, Michael W. Jenkins

Posted on: 2 December 2020

Preprint posted on 8 September 2020

Article now published in Communications Biology at

Pocket MUSE and smartphone multi-tasking.

Selected by Mariana De Niz

Categories: cell biology, epidemiology


Smartphone microscopes can be effective tools for a broad range of imaging applications. Particularly, smartphone microscopes have proven to be useful in contexts where access to benchtop microscopes is limited. At present, however, smartphone microscope designs face a tradeoff between cost, imaging performance and functionality. Moreover, the advantages of smartphone-based microscopy are hindered by the need of sometimes complex sample preparation. To address these limitations, in their work Liu et al (1) introduce Pocket Microscopy with Ultraviolet Surface Excitation (MUSE).

Figure 1. Images acquired using Pocket MUSE (Ref 1, provided by Michael Jenkins).

Key findings and developments

Overview of Pocket MUSE basic design

This prototype is fabricated from readily available low-cost electronics, and is based on a small optical module that attaches over the rear lens of the smartphone, and enables multichannel fluorescence over a 10x field of view. It consists of only 4 major components: an objective lens, a sample holder, UV LED light sources (powered directly with the smartphone battery via the USB port through a step regulator), and a base plate.

Beyond this, a challenge for portability, is the need to develop versatile sample preparation techniques, without sacrificing the applicability of smartphone microscopes. To address some of the main hindrances, including the need for tissue sectioning, the authors explored the use of ultraviolet illumination, which is strongly absorbed by biological structures but can only penetrate a few microns deep. Without subsurface signals contributing to blur and background, this eliminates the need to prepare flat thin sections for mobile setups. As sub-285 nm UV light is blocked by common optical materials, it is unnecessary to filter out the excitation light with designated filters, making it possible to capture the entire visible range of the emitted light with an RGB camera in a single shot. Another limitation addressed by Pocket MUSE is that compact smartphones have very small working distances. This makes it difficult to fit most conventional sub-285nm light-emitting diodes (LEDs). To overcome this challenge, Pocket MUSE is designed to deliver light using frustrated total internal reflection (TIR) through a UVC transparent optical window, which is also the sample holder pre-aligned at the focus of the smartphone microscope objective. This results in uniform illumination of the full field of view, and eliminates the need for a focusing system. As a further step, the authors improved Pocket MUSE resolution in order to allow visualization of sub-cellular structures.

Pocket MUSE is designed to take quality images while holding the phone in any orientation with one hand, which is convenient for field for applications, where a stable working bench is not always available. Following use, the sample holder can be easily cleaned, either while attached to the device, or detaching from it.

Sample preparation

In addition to the optical configuration, Pocket MUSE is compatible with a series of simple, portable and user-friendly sample preparation strategies that can be directly implemented for various microscopy applications.

Slide-free histology is one of the best established MUSE applications, and therefore this was tested in the Pocket MUSE design here presented by the authors. The authors explored single-dip staining followed by a brief tap-water washing step, and demonstrated high image contrast in various tissue samples. Comparable to resolution achievable by a 10x objective, basic staining for use with Pocket MUSE allows identification of sub-cellular structures such as nuclei, and is therefore already useful for various histology-based applications. Moreover, a color remapping technique could be implemented to mimic the color contrast of conventional H&E staining. Also, conventional immunohistochemistry (IHC) staining can be used for imaging tissues using Pocket MUSE. In terms of fluorescence imaging, overnight staining allowed the use of fluorophore-conjugated antibodies, and signal from multiple fluorophores can be separated by unmixing the RGB channels.

Proof of concept

The authors demonstrated the use of Pocket MUSE for imaging various plants and other environmental samples. They also explored the use of bright-field and hybrid imaging on a blood-smear. Trans-illumination BF microscopy can be used by directing the sample holder towards a bright diffusive surface in the far field, using regular room light or natural light as illumination. This can be used in combination with fluorescent dyes targeting the nucleus to identify white blood cells. The authors also explored the use of Pocket MUSE for mucosal smear imaging, of a sample collected using a cotton swab and dipped in dyes. MUSE fluorescence results showed high contrast between cell bodies nuclei ad background. Interestingly, Pocket MUSE allowed cells to be imaged directly from the cotton fiber matrices, and a large population of cells could be visualized by simply repositioning the swab. Finally, the authors explored the possibility of visualizing bacteria using Pocket MUSE. They found that although individual bacteria are smaller than the resolution limit of Pocket MUSE, they can be visualized if sparsely dispersed in a fluid sample. Moreover, Pocket MUSE could differentiate different populations of microorganisms for example, stained with different dyes.

What I like about this preprint

             I am a big supporter of open science initiatives in all senses. The work presented here makes it possible for many people to access the microscopic world. Moreover, having worked in field settings, I think the possibility of using this setup for screening and diagnostics has great potential, as it could potentially allow the integration of imaging with other tools currently implemented in mobile devices (such as geographical information systems used for epidemiology).


  1. Liu et al, Pocket MUSE: an affordable, versatile and high performance fluorescence microscope using a smartphone, bioRxiv, 2020




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Author's response

Yehe Liu and Michael Jenkins shared

1. What are the main limitations that you would point at the current Pocket MUSE setup in terms of samples that can be imaged, illumination needs, information storage, image processing, etc.? And therefore what would be useful next steps to implement to fully adapt Pocket MUSE as a tool for field studies?

A large variety of samples can be quickly and conveniently imaged with Pocket MUSE. With our current setup, we believe there are many potential applications. Specific applications may require greater fields of view or resolution, which should be achievable by changing our design. Also, our first Pocket MUSE prototype is not optimized for rugged use in the field. Future designs will focus on developing a more robust device that holds up under harsh conditions. Finally, specialized software may be needed for certain field studies, which we discuss below.


2. Following from the question above, is it possible to do image processing on Pocket MUSE, so that indeed the full diagnostic capacity is available within the same device?

As mentioned above, it is certainly possible to build specific diagnostic capabilities on Pocket MUSE. Pocket MUSE is a smartphone accessory that generates fluorescence microscopy images on the smartphone. You can process and analyze the images generated through Pocket MUSE on any appropriate platform. Today’s smartphones have great processing power. When necessary, any simple data processing on the computer could be easily implemented on smartphones. One step further, for more sophisticated image processing tasks, AI-based image processing and cloud image processing are both options. Alternatively, lightweight image processing tools can also be built on browsers, making it easier to use across different platforms.


3. For conventional tests that you have described in your work, have you envisaged building apps compatible with Pocket MUSE for basic image processing depending on the sample collected and the target analysis?

As we are looking for key applications of Pocket MUSE, we are certainly interested in build specific imaging apps. As there are many open-source image processing tools for smartphones, it is possible and convenient to use these as starting points for Pocket MUSE image processing and analysis. Specifically for Pocket MUSE, we have also envisaged building a universal programming library for data preprocessing because MUSE images are slightly different from typical smartphone photographs and microscope images. Certain image processing tasks like automatic color balance, channel unmixing, and color remapping need to be specialized for Pocket MUSE images.

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