In recent years there’s been a trend in international development work towards building low-cost versions of key tools for widespread dissemination—inexpensive computers that let Indonesian fisherman check the weather before they go out to sea, or clean-burning stoves that replace coal and improve air quality in family huts.
Now a laboratory at Stanford University has introduced a microscope that’s made of paper, assembled using principles of origami, and costs less than $1 to manufacture. It’s called Foldscope, and it requires just five parts: paper, a ball lens, a button battery, an LED, a switch, and $.03 worth of copper tape.
Despite the simple construction, Foldscope is a capable tool of real science. Users can adjust the focus using paper tabs, and the engineering team, led by bioengineer Manu Prakash and funded in part by the Gates Foundation, explained in a paper [PDF] that Foldscope “can provide over 2,000X magnification with submicron resolution.” They hope eventually to manufacture 1 billion of the inexpensive microscopes each year, and to use them to get more kids interested in science, and to provide out-of-the-way places with better diagnostic capabilities for diseases like E. Coli and malaria.
Images courtesy of PrakashLab.
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