12 March, 2014

Foldoscope - The $1 Origami Microscope

Ever wanted your own microscope at home as a kid?
Didn't want to pay too much to get one?
Well, here we are... with one you could just make for $1!

Origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, has evolved considerably since it appeared in the western world over a century ago. Folding is simple, easy and cheap. So it’s no wonder that scientists and engineers have begun to exploit it in all kinds of innovative ways. They now use origami to construct everything from molecular machines to space telescopes.



Prof. Manu Prakash is a Bioengineer at Stanford University in California. He and his colleagues reveal how they designed and built an origami microscope that is constructed largely out of folded paper and costs less than a dollar to make. And they say their device has the potential to change the way billions of people see the world around them.

Foldoscope is a low-cost microscope made from folded paper and a cheap lens, that could revolutionize education and health care in the developing world. A new microscope can be printed on a flat piece of paper and assembled with a few extra components in less than 10 minutes.

Their origami optics are described in a paper published on arxiv.org.


The goal, as Prakash explains in a TED talk posted today, is to provide a cheap medical screening tool that could be widely used in the developing world. Because the microscopes can be printed by the thousands, they could also be used for education and field research.

An outline of the parts that make up the body of the microscope can be printed on card stock and then punched out. The additional parts include a lens, an LED for illumination and a button battery like the ones used to power a digital watch.



The principles of origami allow all the optical parts to line up properly when the scope is folded together (see more about how they’re made in the video below). Samples can be mounted to a sticky piece of tape, which takes the place of a glass microscope slide. Depending on the lens, the scope can provide up to 2,000X magnification, enough to see the parasites that cause malaria and other diseases. An individual scope can be made in different configurations for different purposes. Using certain colored LEDs for example, turns it into a fluorescent microscope capable of visualizing specific proteins or other biomolecules labeled with fluorescent dyes.



With the paper structure, the device also requires a tiny lens (cost $0.56), and to provide light, a 3V button battery (cost $0.06), an LED ($0.21) plus a couple of other bits and pieces, such as tape and a switch. The total cost is $0.97, say Prakash and co.

The microscopes can run for up to 50 hours on a single battery. They’re tough too. They can withstand being dropped or even stepped on. Eventually, of course, people are going to find ways to break their clever microscopes. But at a dollar apiece for the most expensive, high magnification version, it’s not the end of the world. Print out another sheet, fold it up, and you’re back in business.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Where can I purchase one of these amazing instruments?

Tyson_08 said...

Foldscope is currently not available for sale. You can check out their beta program at http://www.foldscope.com/

Aischa said...

Why does it take so long!? Erghhh! Everybody needs a foldoscope!

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