HOUSTON – A lab accident helped University of Houston engineers discovered a way to test water through smartphones.

It is a twist on cell phone use that excites assistant professor Wei-Chuan Shih and doctoral candidate Yulung Sung.

They call it DotLens, a discovery made by mistake. Last year, Sung dropped polymer on a hot surface. The results led to a new way to test water for pathogens on $30 smartphones.

“It’s like Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize,” Sung said.

Their invention works like a tiny contact lens. The small polymer lens sticks to smartphone cameras and turns the device into a microscope.

With 3D printed cases, the researchers attach slides with water samples allowing them to see samples.

They showed KHOU 11 News bacteria found in an off-campus pond. So far, their invention is popular with teachers needing extra microscopes for students.

The National Science Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant to Shih and Sung’s work. They hope it sparks new citizen interest in science.

Professor Shih thinks their work could help doctors diagnose diseases like Anemia.

“In (a) low resource area, for example, in a rural area where there is no labs, no microscopes, it helps,” he said.

For now, both engineers are focused on expanding their research.