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Engineer Built a $1 Microscope Made Out of Paper

The Foldscope is a microscope that was designed for everybody - yep, that includes poor people who cannot afford an ordinary microscope but are eager to learn more about the invisible world around them.

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$1 Microscope


When Manu Prakash, a Stanford engineer, developed the Foldscope together with his research students, he had this in mind: “In some countries, people don’t believe in germ theory. Even in this country, there are people who don’t believe evolution.

But when you have tool that allows you to give a demonstration right in front of your eyes, it changes your perception because it’s all about facts.

The goal was to see: if we give tools to enable these passionate people, will they be able to transcribe that into progress?”

Manu Prakash is an Indian scientist who is a Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford University. Manu was born in Meerut, India. He is best known for his contributions to the Foldscope and Paperfuge. Prakash received the MacArthur Fellowship in September 2016.

A Foldscope is an optical microscope that can be assembled from simple components, including a sheet of paper and a lens. It was developed by Jim Cybulski and Manu Prakash and designed to cost less than US$1 to build. It is part of the “frugal science” movement which aims to make cheap and easy tools available for scientific use in the developing world.

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The Foldscope is a microscope that was designed for everybody – yep, that includes poor people who cannot afford an ordinary microscope but are eager to learn more about the invisible world around them. As mentioned in its latest Kickstarter campaign, Foldscope is made for “curiosity, discovery and science for everyone.” Not only is the Foldscope affordable, it can easily fit in anyone’s pocket.

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It is made of water-proof paper, so anyone who uses it doesn’t have to worry about getting it wet. It’s magnification and resolution lets you see live individual cells and other living microorganisms. It’s basically the answered prayer for anyone who wants access to a microscope without having to pay too much or even do some heavy lifting while on the field.

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Details of Foldscope

A Foldscope is an optical microscope that can be assembled from a punched sheet of cardstock, a spherical glass lens, a light emitting diode and a diffuser panel, along with a watch battery that powers the LED. Once assembled, the Foldscope is about the size of a bookmark. The Foldscope weighs 8 grams and comes in a kit with multiple lenses that provide magnification from 140X to 2,000X.

The kit also includes magnets that can be stuck onto the Foldscope to attach it to a smartphone, allowing the user to take pictures of the magnification.

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The magnification power is enough to enable the spotting of organisms such as Leishmania donovani and Escherichia coli, as well as malarial parasites. A Foldscope can be printed on a standard A4 sheet of paper and assembled in seven minutes. Prakash claims that the Foldscope can survive harsh conditions, including being thrown in water or dropped from a five-story building.

When it was launched back in 2014, Prakash and his team distributed around 50,000 of this $1 paper microscope to people from 135 countries. Now, he and his former PhD student, Jim Cybulski created a Kickstarter campaign to fulfill their next mission of expanding the kits and releasing one million Foldscopes. They plan to release the updated version of the Foldscope to several schools, communities and to anyone who is interested to study science.

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The updated version of the paper microscope features higher magnification  and pseudo-phase contrast or illumination. You also don’t have to worry about losing the focus with its field of view locking mechanism.


Article Sources:

Foldscope via Kickstarter

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Engr. Paige Peterson
Angel Investor & Director at GineersNow. MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management. Electrical engineer from Uni of Melbourne. Strong Aussie girl living in Sunny California. Follow me on Linkedin


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