A special medical scanner using a liquid lens has been developed at the University of Rochester. The device has already been tested successfully with humans in imaging skin lesions without the need for surgical removal and biopsy.
"My hope is that, in the future, this technology could remove significant inconvenience and expense from the process of skin lesion diagnosis," University of Rochester optics professor Jannick Rolland says. "When a patient walks into a clinic with a suspicious mole, for instance, they wouldn't have to have it necessarily surgically cut out of their skin or be forced to have a costly and time-consuming MRI done. Instead, a relatively small, portable device could take an image that will assist in the classification of the lesion right in the doctor's office."
The device accomplishes this using a unique liquid lens setup developed by Rolland and her team for a process known as Optical Coherence Microscopy. In a liquid lens, a droplet of water takes the place of the glass in a standard lens. As the electrical field around the water droplet changes, the droplet changes its shape and therefore changes the focus of the lens. This allows the device to take thousands of pictures focused at different depths below the skin's surface. Combining these images creates a fully in-focus image of all of the tissue up to 1 millimeter deep in human skin, which includes important skin tissue structures. Because the device uses near infrared light instead of ultrasounds, the images have a precise, micron-scale resolution instead of a millimeter-scale resolution.
This device reminds me of the Star Trek medical scanners that are simply waved at the patient; the following compilation video should remind you.
(Str Trek medical scanner compilation video)
I also wanted to point out that the oil lens from Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune is a very early mention of the idea of manipulating the shape of a droplet of liquid.