Dr. Manu Prakash, inventor of the foldscope.
Dr. Manu Prakash, inventor of the foldscope. (Photo courtesy Stanford University)

Manu Prakash, a biophysicist at Stanford, has created something amazing:  a microscope that can be assembled from paper and a handful of inexpensive materials using a 3D printer.

And he’s created two models.  The less expensive of the two will cost you fifty cents and offers up to 400x magnification.  The deluxe model will magnify up to 2,100 times with a resolving power of less than a micron.  It’s a bit more expensive, though, coming in at a little under a dollar.

Prakash and his team at Stanford devised the microscope, which they dubbed the foldscope, as part of an effort to democratize science by creating tools that “can scale up to match problems in global health and science education.” (www.foldscope.com)

Dr. Prakash grew up in India where he developed an awareness of the inequities in the distribution of scientific research—and the expensive tools used to carry out that research—throughout the world.  This awareness led him to develop what he calls “frugal science,” a movement to provide inexpensive tools that will open up scientific and medical opportunities in developing countries.

While a graduate student at MIT, Prakash worked for physicist Neil Gershenfeld, where he took part in another groundbreaking invention.

The two scientists combined chemistry with computing tools to create a technology called microfluidic bubble logic.  Similar to an electronic circuit, information is carried on microbubbles representing ones and zeros.  In addition to the information, the bubbles also transport chemicals, providing an “on-chip process control mechanism integrating chemistry and computation.”  (Science)

One of Prakash’s goals with the foldscope is to enable people living in less-advantaged parts of the world to more easily diagnose bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, African sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and giardiasis.

In addition to the foldscope’s low cost and high power, the device is also practically indestructible.  According to Prakash it can survive a fall from a three-story building.  Oftentimes he demonstrates its strength by stomping on it.

For more information check out the foldscope website here.

Click here to read about 3D bioprinting on the BioSurplus blog.

Foldscope diagram:

The foldscope.

Stepping on the foldscope to demonstrate its sturdiness.
Stepping on the foldscope to demonstrate its sturdiness.