Manu Prakash: A 50-cent microscope that folds like origami

The Foldscope, an origami-like microscope, is the size of a bookmark, virtually indestructible and costs only $0.50 to produce.

Its creator, Manu Prakash, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, hopes such a microscope will allow for easier and more wider detection of blood-borne diseases like malaria, African sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis and Chagas. Each kind of Foldscope is for a specific disease, with 12 in total.

“I wanted to make the best possible disease-detection instrument that we could almost distribute for free,” said Prakash to Scope, a medical blog run by the Stanford University School of Medicine. “What came out of this project is what we call use-and-throw microscopy.”

A Foldscope can be put together in a matter of minutes to create either a bright-field, multi-fluorescence or projection microscope. The device uses a spherical lens, rather than a curved glass lens, which is what makes this so unique. The new lens can magnify samples up to 2,000 times.

Assembling the microscope is easy, as the parts are color-coded and folded according to the color. No writing instructions are needed, eliminating the usual language barrier to such a project.

A user can put a sample on a slide and insert it between the paper layers of the microscope. The Foldscope can also be fitted with LED lights, powered by a watch battery, or used to project images on a wall. That lets researchers or doctors look at the information together to make the correct diagnosis, or allows the Foldscope to be used as a learning tool for students.


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