At first sight, the Foldscope looks like a hastily assembled children's toy. However look closer and even into it, and you will realize that it is a powerful working microscope - one that can be used to detect dangerous blood-borne diseases like malaria and sleeping sickness, allowing for early treatment and potentially, saving thousands of lives.
The brainchild of Manu Prakash, an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at California's Stanford University, the origami-inspired microscope can be assembled by almost anyone, within a matter of minutes - All they need is the sheet of Foldscope, a simple micro-lens and some glue or tape.
While it may appear rudimentary, the lightweight device that weighs a mere 8.8gms or less than two nickels, and folds flatter than a pack of cards is anything but - It not only provides over 2000x magnification, but can also be completely customized. That means that Foldscopes can easily be custom 'printed' to detect specific diseases, eliminating diagnostic guesswork. So far, Mr. Prakash has devised 30 customized versions. This together with the fact that they are easier to lug around than traditional microscopes and do not need any power to work, make Foldscopes perfect for field testing in rural areas that do not have ready access to laboratories.
The microscope, which is printed on cardstock paper is also surprisingly durable - Something its inventor has tested extensively by stomping on it, throwing it into the washing machine and even, tossing it off a three-story building. Just like the Energizer Bunny, it keeps going.
Best of all, the Foldscope costs a mere 50 cents to make, which is why Mr. Prakash strongly believes that it can be widely deployed to diagnose blood-borne diseases in developing countries where medical resources are few and far-between. Also, since it is so cheap and easy to assemble, Foldscopes exposed to infectious diseases can be incinerated and replaced with new ones.
In 2012, Mr. Prakash received a $100,000 USD grant from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to field test Foldscopes in India, Thailand and Uganda. Results and feedback from these trials will allow the professor to tweak this unusual microscope and make it even more precise.
Mr. Prakash hopes that his invention won't just be used to save lives around the world, but also, serve as an educational tool to inspire both adults and kids to explore and learn about the microscopic world. In order to jumpstart that initiative, he recently announced a plan to give away 10,000 Foldscope kits to people from all walks to life to enable them to test the microscope in different settings. To snag your own free origami microscope go to - foldscope.com
Resources: cbc.ca, mashable.com,scopeblog.stanford.edu