A tiny torch shining out of a human cell may sound like a Honey I Shrunk The Kids gag but the Australian technology is real with revolutionary applications for fighting disease but also making counterfeit-free passports and neon flashing tattoos.
The technology won a Eureka Prize last night and team leader Dayong Jin said it was 12 years in the making from a team spanning 16 international institutions.
"We started out with the question of how to find a needle in a haystack," Jin told The Huffington Post Australia.
"Often a diseased cell is the needle and all the other skin cells and healthy cells are the haystack -- the noise we need to remove.
"We can use this to see a single molecule in the body."
The torch is a minuscule crystal dot that flashes when infrared light is shone on it, allowing a high-res image to be created.
Jin said that while it was designed with diagnosing disease in mind, there were lots of other applications.
"I call that a bonus outcome," Jin told HuffPost Australia.
"The dots are really quite compatible with ink -- they can be printed onto paper to create a very secret encoded message inside a passport, a banknote, anything.
"The crystals are completely transparent until they are shone with infrared, then you see all the colours."
A crystal is activated by infrared light. Picture: Supplied
Jin said the crystals could also be programmed to flash at specific intervals, which could be used for creating personal security codes or even storing data.
And as for embedding the crystals in skin cells?
"That is a novel idea -- a tattoo is basically coloured dye but these are invisible unless shone with a special light.
"It would be quite a fancy tattoo."