Foldscope – a real paper microscope

A pair of US inventors have figured out how to make a paper microscope that folds like origami and fits in your pocket. They called their invention the Foldscope. Such a microscope can always be carried with you in order to be able to study the microcosm around us at any time.

Foldscope - a real paper microscope

So I think the first most important question needs to be answered first. What is a paper microscope? Is that possible? Of course available. A foldscope is a real microscope with enough magnification to image individual living cells, cell organelles, or see bacteria swimming. And by attaching a smartphone lens to a microscope lens, you can shoot a video about the life of bacteria.

The Foldoscope is assembled like this: you take a sheet of paper with the Foldscope template, take out the parts, fold and connect them, attach the lens, the LED with the battery and the pocket microscope is ready. After that, you can monitor the life of bacteria in river water or consider the structure of plants. It is enough just to put the object under study under the lens. In the video below you will see footage of shooting the microcosm with the help of the Foldscope.

How did Foldscope come about?

The Foldscope was invented by Manu Prakash and Jim Cybulski in a Stanford University lab when Jim was a graduate student and Manu was in charge of the lab. The idea to make such a microscope came during their many work trips around the world, where they constantly had to deal with bulky and broken microscopes or none at all.

Driven by the idea of ​​creating a low-cost diagnostic tool, and supported by a grant from the Gates Foundation, the project resulted in the invention of the Foldscope, a folding microscope made mostly of paper that cost less than a dollar. For the first time, the technology for manufacturing and using a microscope was published in 2014 in the journal PLoS ONE.

Manufacturing technology of the Foldscope microscope

In the article, for the manufacture of a paper microscope, it is proposed to use paper (400 cm²), ball lenses, a 3V coin cell battery (CR2016), an LED, a switch and a copper tape (5 cm²). See the article for details.

Foldscope pilot program

The Foldscope pilot program at Prakash’s PrakashLab began in 2014 with support from the Moore Foundation. Project leaders distributed 50,000 Foldscopes across 135 countries and asked recipients to display the results in an online community. This wide distribution of Foldscopes has shown a surprising variety of uses for this tool. For example, Foldscopes have been used to identify microscopic pest eggs in India, to catalog the biodiversity of soil arthropods in the Amazon, to detect counterfeit currencies and medicines, to track down toxic algae, to detect bacteria in water samples, to map pollen diversity in a city.

Foldscope Instruments and the future

In December 2015, Jim and Manu founded Foldscope Instruments with the goal of increasing the production of Foldscopes and eventually making other low-cost scientific instruments. The next goal of the company is to distribute one million paper microscopes by the end of 2017. As part of this task, the company cooperates with educational organizations around the world. According to the developers, they believe that every child in the world should carry a microscope in their pocket, just like a pencil.

Thanks to feedback, Foldscope is constantly evolving. For example, now you can attach a smartphone to it using a magnetic clip to observe bacteria directly on the screen, and ordinary paper has been replaced with synthetic paper, so the microscope is not afraid of water.

What can you see with Foldscope?

The Foldscope will allow you to explore the previously unseen world of microscopic objects and life forms. It can be anything: live amoebas, bacteria, algae, pollen, diatoms, cyanobacteria, ants, mites, fungi, spider eggs, mosquito larvae, bees, suvoys, tentacle ciliates, tardigrades, nematodes, stem cells, rotifers, daphnia, hydra, flower petals, sea salt, soda, onion cells, erythrocytes, zygomatic cells, bird feathers, copepods. Have you ever wondered how mosquito larvae breathe underwater or how a cage splits into two or how butterfly wings are painted?

What can be seen with a foldoscope

How does Foldscope work?

The Foldscope can be used in three different modes: view with the eye (see picture on the left), view through a smartphone (see picture in the middle), project onto a white surface (see picture on the right).

How to look with the Foldscope

Where to buy a Foldscope?

Foldscope Instruments is currently running a fundraising campaign to release a large batch of Foldscopes on the Kickstarter service. You can order a $20 personal kit or a $30 teacher kit. There are also other interesting proposals.

The kit for individual use includes a metal box for storing the Foldscope, a template for making a Foldscope, a lens, a magnetic clip for attaching a smartphone, glass slides (empty and prepared), LED light source, a notepad with a pencil for writing, 12 plates and Petri dishes, metal and nylon mesh filters, PVC glass slides, tweezers, pipettes, scissors, tubes and more (see picture below).

Set for individual use with the Foldscope microscope

The teacher kit includes a Foldoscope set for a class of 20: 20 Foldoscope templates, 20 lenses, 20 instructions, 20 nylon bags with a zipper, a magnetic clip for attaching a smartphone, empty and prepared slides, transparent stickers for fixing samples.

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