Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of Bioengineering at Stanford University has developed an ultra low-cost ‘print and fold’ microscope that has the potential to push humanitarian efforts to save millions of lives in third world countries.
A foldscope is a minimalistic bookmark sized, fully functional microscope affixed with advanced microscopy built within the folding paper. The Foldscope can provide over 2,000X magnification with sub-micron resolution (800nm), weighs less than two nickels (8.8 g), and is small enough to fit in a pocket.
It can be assembled within minutes and does not include any sort of mechanical moving parts in the configuration. The foldscope can be incinerated after use to safely dispose of infectious biological samples. It supports bright-field polarization, projection and a platform for fluorescence. The components form three stages – an optical stage, illumination stage and the mask holding stage. The paper is embedded with micro optics at the bottom. The foldable paper has no instruction or languages. However, it had a color embedded code to tell users how exactly to fold the microscope. It can be customized for detection of organism by tweaking colored lights powered by a watch battery, sample stains and fluorescent filters. For example, fluorescent filters are specifically used for diagnosing malaria. The foldscope has 30 different configurations which can be tweaked using the filters and stains and hence, makes it a very specific diagnostic microscope. It can also be tweaked to project images on the wall of room devoid of any light.
What’s impressive is that this 50-cent printable microscope still works when thrown off a 3-storey building, stomped on or dunked in water.
Inventor Manu Prakash said that “I wanted to make the best possible disease-detection instrument that we could almost distribute for free. What came out of this project is what we call use-and-throw microscopy.”
A physicist inspired by nature’s own solutions to world’s biggest problems, Manu Prakash hopes that the ultra-cost microscope will be someday be distributed widely to detect dangerous blood0-borne diseases like malaria, African sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis and Chagas. Prakash is passionate about mass-producing the Foldscope for educational purposes and to inspire a generation of children and future scientist to help explore the world of micro-organisms.
Born in Meerut, India Manu Prakash earned a BTech in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur before moving to the United States. There he earned his masters and PhD in Applied Physics at MIT before founding the Prakash Lab at Stanford University.
The ‘print and fold’ paper microscope won a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation in 2012.