Engineering meets Science meets Origami

Malaria affects 1 billion people a year and is particularly devastating for children under 5 who are exposed to it. The way to diagnose is to image a drop of the patient’s blood and magnify it so that it is possible to see if the patient actually has malaria and if so to match the medication to the actual type of malaria the patient has. Unfortunately, the instruments needed to do this imagining are expensive and because of the scale of the problem (1,000,000,000 people!), the instruments would need to be practically free.

Enter Dr. Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of biophysics at Stanford. He and his team are working to develop scientific instruments that can be used by scientists in poor countries.

What about a microscope that could be widely available in those parts of the world where malaria is prevalent, durable, needs no external power source, and is inexpensive?

In addition to using it to help do the nearly 1 billion screenings for malaria, what if you could use this microscope to improve science education?

First, the powerful microscope that is also very inexpensive:

I was expecting it to look like microscopes I used, a tube and a stage for the slide. This looks nothing like that. Instead it is made of heavy paper, folded in such a way that it can be assembled in 20 minutes. It includes an light emitting diode (led) with battery so that it illuminates the specimen and can even project the image onto a large surface such as a wall. While it doesn’t use a ground glass lens, it is capable of a resolution that approaches 700 nanometers! The microscope uses ball lenses which are used to connect fiber optic light sources. 

You can see the complete plans for the microscope here.

When the Foldscope was shown in March of this year,  Dr. Prahash and his team also asserted that an inexpensive ($.55) microscope would not only make the imagining and diagnosis of diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, African sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and giardiasis but that it could also add something new to science education.

What if every child had access to a high quality, durable, and inexpensive microscope? 

To answer this question, 10,000 Foldscopes were offered to individuals who will  We intend to enlist 10,000 individuals 

who would be willing to beta-test Foldscope over the summer and develop single page science experiments, protocols, queries, questions, applications based on using Foldscope in a specific community. We aim to collectively write a crowd-sourced biology microscopy manual with examples collected from scientists, teachers, tinkerers, thinkers, hackers, kids and alike. (10,000 Microscope Project)

While the offer is now closed, if you are interested in the project, you can contact Dr. Prakash’s team at

What is nice about the project is that you don’t need a Foldscope to participate. One can take the challenge to develop single page science experiments, protocols, queries, questions…and so forth that employ microscopy as a tool.




Science Tools Anyone Can Afford Article from the NYTimes, April 21, 2014

Foldscope: Origami-based Paper Microscope Paper about the creation and specifications for the Foldscope.

Foldscope: Microscopy Anyone Can Afford The 10,000 Microscope Project Description


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