June 13, 2014

Foldscope Image

Frugal Science Credit: Foldscope Team / http://www.foldscope.com/#/foldscope/

Guest:

Imagine your high school microscope. Expensive, clunky, filled with metal.

Doesn't exactly seem like the sort of tool that would be easily accessible to large swaths of poor school children in India or Kenya or Chile.

Which is where Stanford professor Manu Prakash comes in. Prakash, a bioengineer, has developed a $1 origami microscope. That’s right: a paper microscope. 

And the Foldscope  - as it's called - is a unique teaching tool, requiring students to learn STEM skills even as they assemble it. “The origami and mathematics of folding is one aspect. There’s the mechanical engineering of how the instrument actually works. There’s optics/physical sciences. And then there is biology which comes from exploring the microscopic cosmos.”

Foldscope Manufacturing

Foldscope Manufacturing - they are made and ship flat. Credit: Foldscope Team

Prakash hopes that his microscope will become ubiquitous, almost like ballpoint pens. “Every single kid in the world should have a microscope in their pocket.”

If the initial response is any indication, he may get his wish. Right now, 11,000 people from 130 different countries have already applied to get one.

Global Health

The Foldscope could also serve as an inexpensive public health tool, making a real difference in places where communicable diseases and parasitic infections are rampant.

"Different bugs require different magnifications," Prakash explains. "Tuberculosis is around one micron or two microns... Schistosomiasis is a large parasite, and you only need around 400x." He says that you can customize the microscope to deal with particular issues in the community.

Foldscope Images

Microscopic images captured by the Foldscope Credit: Foldscope Team

“I am a firm believer that healthcare is going to be provided by people. Even though I am a technologist, I think very hard about are we giving tools to the people who are out in the field making these decisions,” says Prakash.

Sci & Tech, origami microscope, Manu Prakash

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