During the White House’s first-ever Maker Faire, Francis Collins, MD, director of the National Institutes of Health, was among those vying for a chance to test out a Foldscope, the 50-cent origami microscope invented by Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash, PhD. In a post published yesterday on his blog, Collins said, “While I saw many amazing inventions and met many incredible inventors at this event, I came away particularly impressed by the practicality of this device and the ingenuity of its maker.”
Collins goes on to explain the design components of the Foldscope, his experience testing out the device and Prakash’s plans to open up the wonders of the microscopic world to future generations of scientists and engineers. He writes in the piece:
So, how do you use the Foldscope? It turns out that this bookmark-size device uses the same glass slides that one uses in a regular microscope. So, the preparation of blood or tissue samples remain the same. In the simplest version of the scope, the slide is inserted between the microscope’s paper layers and the user, with a thumb and forefinger grasping either end of the microscope strip, holds the lens close to one eye and flexes the strip to find the target object and bring it into focus. I had the chance to try this at the White House event, and found that learning how to use it is very easy. In more advanced versions, the device can project the image onto a wall or any other flat surface—a great, low-cost tool for educating healthcare workers and others in low-income nations about various infectious diseases.
Prakash is currently fine-tuning Foldscopes so they can be field tested in Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, and Peru for diagnosis of malaria, microfilariasis, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, and sleeping sickness. His team at Stanford is also busy designing Foldscopes to help diagnose 30 other diseases, and drawing up plans for a next generation of Foldscopes that will utilize microfluidic components rather than glass slides—a step that should make sample collection and analysis even easier.
Not only will Foldscope give healthcare workers around the globe better ways to detect, and thereby treat, disease, it will also place magnifying power within the reach of all the world’s students, enabling them to ask and answer a great many scientific questions. To this end, Prakash has launched the Ten Thousand Microscopes Project to entice inquiring minds to beta test these devices and design experiments that can then be compiled into a crowd-sourced microscopy text. Imagine a world in which every kid carries around a 50-cent portable microscope, and brings science out of the lab and into real-world biology.
Previously: Manu Prakash on how growing up in India influenced his interests as a Maker and entrepreneur, Dr. Prakash goes to Washington and Stanford microscope inventor invited to first White House Maker Faire and The pied piper of cool science tools