One of the more tedious parts of health science and microbiology is monitoring Petri dishes. It's time consuming. And, if you don't look at everything that's going on in the Petri dish often enough, you risk missing something really important.

Enter technology. A team at Caltech has put together a prototype "smart Petri dish" that monitors itself in real time and delivers information directly from the incubator to a scientist's computer. In a way, it's a lot like that time Cliff Huxtable took a Polaroid of the food inside the fridge, so his kids wouldn't keep standing there with the door open.

The prototype, dubbed the ePetri, was created from Lego blocks and a cell-phone image sensor, and uses light from a Google Android smart phone. A sample is placed on top of a small image-sensor chip, which uses an Android phone's LED screen as a light source.

The whole device is placed in an incubator, and the image-sensor chip connects to a laptop outside through a wire. As the image sensor snaps pictures of the cells growing in real time, the laptop stitches hundreds of images together to create a high-resolution picture of what is happening on the dish.

Via Brian Mossop