Reinventing THE MICROSCOPE - Design and development of a low-cost portable, automated, and smart digital microscopy device for malaria detection

Author: Chidozie Elvis Chidi-Ezeama

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 16 Dec 2025.

Chidi-Ezeama, Chidozie Elvis, 2022 Reinventing THE MICROSCOPE - Design and development of a low-cost portable, automated, and smart digital microscopy device for malaria detection, Flinders University, College of Science and Engineering

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Malaria, a blood-borne infection, remains a global problem, affecting an estimated 241 million people and causing 627,000 deaths in 2020 alone. Its demography shows that the poor people living in places of low socio-economic status are disproportionately affected, which poses a challenge to the accessibility of its diagnosis using the WHO gold standard of light microscopy. The increasing exodus of healthcare professionals and skilled labour from these rural areas has led to the design of automated devices in the market today. These devices, which automate traditional microscopy, have been even more expensive, further widening the cost gap. Currently, researchers are tending towards the modification of mobile phones and phone cameras for their ubiquity. However, these approaches have been proven to be unsustainable and increase the risk of disease outbreaks from laboratories, with mobile phones acting as fomites. This thesis presents the design and development of an open-source, purpose-built, low-cost, portable, digital automated microscopy device for malaria diagnosis in resource-poor, malaria-endemic areas. Standard engineering design methods were followed to build a functional 3D-printed prototype device. This low-cost device is based on the on-sensor digital in-line holography microscopy (DLHM) approach. The device's electronics, designed to be highly customizable and compact, is based on a Raspberry Pi single-board computer and the RP2040 microcontroller chip using open-source software. The results include all the source files for the 3D CAD models, the custom Printed Circuit Board source files, and the software code required to run the device. The device can automatically accept a blood slide, image the slide, reconstruct the image to identify blood cells, and present them to a pre-existing malaria detection system. This device provides cost-effective hardware suitable for DLHM applications in field microscopy, especially in malaria microscopy in resource-poor regions. It gives a robust open-source, readily-accessible platform to commence experimentation in the field and lead to improvements in malaria detection in rural Africa.

Keywords: Malaria, microscope, dlhm, automated, medical device, biochrome, detection

Subject: Engineering thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2022
School: College of Science and Engineering
Supervisor: Dr David Hobbs