Perhaps when you were young, you folded a piece of paper and made an origami swan? What if instead of folding a swan, you could make a microscope? With the help of 3-D printing, Manu Prakash and his team at Stanford have made this possible, revolutionizing the world of microscopy.
Created in 2014, the Foldscope is a “print-and-fold” optical microscope assembled from a regular piece of paper. Its color-coded design makes it universally understandable with all of the microscope’s non-paper parts, such as its lens and battery, printed into the sheet, keeping assembly as simple as possible. This remarkable tool is small enough to fit inside someone’s pocket and weighs less than ten grams. And the most amazing thing: the Foldscope only costs 50 cents to 1 dollar to make!
Although small and light, the Foldscope has advanced capabilities. A high-resolution version can magnify up to 2,100 times, while a lower resolution option can magnify up to 400 times. Prakash has also developed specialized versions that can correctly identify a wide range of diseases, including malaria, schistosomiasis, and African sleeping sickness. With the accuracy and low-cost of the Foldscope, doctors around the world can have better technology for diagnosing and treating patients.
The durability of the Foldscope also makes it ideal for fieldwork. The microscope is able to withstand a 3-story drop, being stomped on, and can be fully functional after being submerged in a beaker of water.
The Foldscope is a testament that not all great technology has to be complex and expensive. Something as simple and low-end as this device can change public healthcare in developing countries and can make more resources available. Also, since the Foldscope is a standalone device and does not need any attachments or computers, it works well during isolated disasters where outside communication is not possible.
This inexpensive, uncomplicated, but highly advanced technology is part of Prakash’s movement of “frugal science.” By creating inexpensive versions of high tech tools, he endeavors to make medical devices more globally accessible. For example, the microscope, although an integral tool, is often a luxury in the labs of developing countries because a quality one costs hundreds of dollars. Prakash aims to introduce paper microscopes into the developing world, furthering science education and research in these struggling countries.
To learn more about Manu Prakash and the Foldscope watch his TED talk: