Foldscope – an inexpensive paper microscope

By Lorrin Windahl.

Every now and again a product comes along that can change the lives of thousands. Foldscope is just such a product. This low cost microscope could enable health centres, in impoverished regions around the world, to analyse samples themselves rather than have to send them away for testing. Thus reducing the waiting time for patients to receive results and begin treatment.

Foldscope is printed onto a flat piece of cardboard that is then folded, like origami, to create the microscope. It is the brainchild of a research team at PrakashLab at Stanford University. The team, headed up by Manu Prakash, aim to democratise scientific instruments in order to address global health problems.

The Foldscope is a flat pack product that it folded like orgami to produce a cost effective microscope. Image courtesy of guydster.com. guydster.com

The Foldscope is a flat pack product that it folded like orgami to produce a cost effective microscope. Image courtesy of guydster.com.

The genius behind the product is its simplicity. The product can be mass produced, is cost effective to ship (given it is a flat sheet) and requires no pre-assembly as this is done by the user. At a cost of around 50c it makes the instrument feasible and affordable to a wider health community, namely those in developing countries.

According to their website, the microscope can provide 2000X magnification, weighs only 8.8g, is small enough to fit in a pocket, requires no external power and is pretty much indestructible (you can drop it from a three storey building or even step on it).

The microscope is also a great tool for the education sector.  It opens up new windows of opportunity to schools where expensive, heavy equipment is not practical or affordable. It provides students with access to an otherwise unseen microscopic world.

The next task for the team is to optimise the product so that it is disease specific rather than a general purpose tool. This will increase the device’s specificity and sensitivity to predetermined diagnostic tests.

Top image and video courtesy of Foldscope.

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