Published by
Stanford Medicine

Category

Bioengineering

Applied Biotechnology, Bioengineering, Global Health, Microbiology, Science

The pied piper of cool science tools

The pied piper of cool science tools

Kid-scopeWhen Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash, PhD, and his students set out to solve a challenging global health problem, the first order of business is to have fun.

“We’re a curiosity-driven lab,” says Prakash, as he sits in his office overflowing with toys, gadgets, seashells and insect exoskeletons.

In the last month, Prakash introduced two new cool science tools — a 50-cent paper microscope and a $5 programmable kid’s chemistry set. The response from fellow science lovers, compiled on this Storify page, has been amazing.

Already, 10,000 kids, teachers, health workers and small thinkers from around the globe have signed up to receive build-your-own-microscope kits. Thousands more have sent us e-mails describing the creative ways they’d use a microscope that they could carry around in their back pockets.

For the love of science, here are a few of these inspirational e-mails:

I would love to have one. I’m only in 6th grade but I love science. I hope to visit the moon one day. — Raul

I am an electrical engineer from Kenya and have never used a microscope in all my life. But what I would really like to do is to avail the foldscope to students in a primary school that I am involved in mentoring. This apart from hopefully inspiring them in the wonders of science, would enable the students see the structure of the mosquito proboscis, a malaria-spreading agent in this part of the world. I would also like to look at the roots of mangrove trees and see the structure that enables them to keep sea water salts out. — Macharia Wanyoike

This is brilliant! I am in science and nanotechnology education and my wish is for South African rural children, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana to all have these microscopes! It will be amazing. — Professor Sanette Brits, University of Limpopo, South Africa

waterbearI am studying how magnetic fields at different frequencies affect water bears. They are very difficult to find and it would be great if I had a tool to help me find them that is  portable while searching for them. I have digital motic microscope phase contrast and darkfield microscopes but nothing portable. — Edward W. Verner (Water bear shown to the left.)

I could use it to check if patients have scabies. Or if I were visiting remote monasteries in the Himalayas where they have outbreaks. I’d definitely pack it. For myself I’d use it on nature walks. GREAT ACCOMPLISHMENT for mankind. Congratulations. — Linda Laueeano, RN

Hi! I am a high school student from South Korea. While I was searching for interesting project, I saw your video. It was very amazing and I can’t believe that only one dollar can save hundreds and thousands people who were suffering from malaria and other diseases that can be found by your “foldscope”. I really love to study about your project and I had already read your thesis. Truly, it was hard to understand everything, but I really tried hard and I discussed this issue for more than a week with my science club. We are group of 10 people and we are eager to do this project. Also I really appreciate you to do this wonderful thing for poor kids in many other countries. Thanks. — Joung Yeon Park

I am assisting a K-12 community school with creating a STEAM Innovation Knowledge HUB, as they are trying to move their Common Core Curriculum into a STEM to STEAM driven program. It would be great to receive several Foldscopes or be able to purchase. Please contact me ASAP. Congratulations on a great new support product and great innovation. Thank you, smile. — Dr. Dion N. Johnson, Wayne State University

Continue Reading »

Bioengineering, Global Health, Medicine and Society, Stanford News, Videos

Music box inspires a chemistry set for kids and scientists in developing countries

Music box inspires a chemistry set for kids and scientists in developing countries

Over the past few weeks my colleague Kris Newby has been writing about the Foldscope, the 50-cent microscope developed by bioengineer Manu Prakash, PhD. Today Prakash is announcing another device that will bring high tech science to the developing world – and to kids.

The device won a contest from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Society for Science & the Public to “Reimagine the chemistry set for the 21st century.” In the contest materials, the two groups cite the absence of chemistry sets on the market today that inspire creativity.

As the parent of two boys I have to agree. Chemistry toys these days come with prepackaged materials and set instructions for how to use them. Sure, I’m not enthusiastic about some of the dangerous chemicals in the kits that inspired an older generation of scientists, but a bit of creativity would be nice.

Prakash took inspiration from a simple music box to design a handheld chemistry set that can be programmed using holes punched in a paper tape. The prize came from the set’s use as a toy to inspire kids, but Prakash and graduate student George Korir also envision it being used to carry out science in developing countries. They say it can be built for about $5. Prakash told me, “I’d started thinking about this connection between science education and global health. The things that you make for kids to explore science [are] also exactly the kind of things that you need in the field because they need to be robust and they need to be highly versatile.”

My Stanford Report story goes on to describe how it works:

Like the music box, the prototype includes a hand cranked wheel and paper tape with periodic holes punched by the user. When a pin encounters a hole in the tape it flips and activates a pump that releases a single drop from a channel. In the simplest design, 15 independent pumps, valves and droplet generators can all be controlled simultaneously.

Prakash and Korir didn’t set out to make a kit for kids. Their idea was that a portable, programmable chemistry kit could be used around the world to test water quality, provide affordable medical diagnostic tests, assess soil chemistry for agriculture or as a snake bite venom test kit. It could even be used in modern labs to carry out experiments on a very small scale.

This chemistry set and the Foldscope are both part of what Prakash calls “frugal science.” There’s more about how the device works in the technical paper.

Previously: Stanford bioengineer develops a 50-cent paper microscope and Free DIY microscope kits to citizen scientists with inspiring project ideas
Photo in featured entry box by George Korir

Applied Biotechnology, Bioengineering, Global Health, In the News, Stanford News

Through his 50-cent microscope, Stanford engineer aims to “reach society in a very strong way”

Through his 50-cent microscope, Stanford engineer aims to "reach society in a very strong way"

Manu TED imageFoldscope, the ultra-low-cost paper microscope designed to aid disease diagnosis in developing regions, is back in the news. For a story appearing in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, writer Stephanie Lee talked with Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash, PhD, and others about the invention:

“Manu Prakash is one of the most creative scientists and engineers and his invention is really original,” wrote Luke Lee, a bioengineering professor at UC Berkeley who works on global health problems, in an e-mail. “His elegant microscope is not only good for global health care, but also it will be a new educational tool to see the world.”

The Foldscope was two years in the making, starting with trips that Prakash and his graduate students took through India, Thailand, Uganda and Nigeria. The team met people who were suffering from infectious diseases but couldn’t afford conventional microscopes, which cost upward of $200, to diagnose their conditions.

“It was very clear that anything we came up with, if we can’t scale it to the cost it needs to be, it doesn’t really reach anywhere,” Prakash said.

Prakash went on to tell Lee, “This is not just an academic project. We happen to be in an academic setting, but we are trying to reach society in a very strong way.”

Previously: Free DIY microscope kits to citizen scientists with inspiring project ideas, Stanford bioengineer develops a 50-cent paper microscope, Stanford microscope inventor featured on TED Talk, Stanford bioengineer developing an “Electric Band-Aid Worm Test and Stanford bioengineers create an ultra-low-cost oral cancer screening tool
Photo by James Duncan Davidson/TED

Applied Biotechnology, Bioengineering, Global Health, Stanford News

Free DIY microscope kits to citizen scientists with inspiring project ideas

Free DIY microscope kits to citizen scientists with inspiring project ideas

foldscope-paper-microscope-620x406

Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash, PhD, is giving away 10,000 build-your-own paper microscope kits to citizen scientists with the most inspiring ideas for things to do with this new invention.

This invention, called Foldscope, is a print-and-fold optical microscope that can be assembled from a flat sheet of paper. Although it costs less than a dollar in parts, it can magnify objects over 2,000 times and is small enough to fit in a pocket.

Prakash initiated The Ten Thousand Microscopes Project, funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, as a way to open up the wonders of the microscopic world to future generations of scientists and engineers. Prakash, who entered and won science fairs as a child in India, clearly wishes that he had a tool like this when growing up.

“Many children around the world have never used a microscope, even in developed countries like the United States,” said Prakash. “A universal program providing a microscope for every child could foster deep interest in science at an early age.”

kid-sketches

Through this project, he and his team will assemble a crowd-sourced biology microscopy manual that includes examples of creative uses for his microscope, collected from the scientists, teachers, tinkerers, thinkers, hackers and kids who participate.

“So many times people use a tool for one specific purpose and don’t realize the rich potential for other uses,” said Prakash. “This online manual will inspire further explorations.”

To apply for a Foldscope kit, submit ideas on how you would use your microscope to signup (at) foldscope (dot) com. Recipients must pledge to document their experiments in a way that could be replicated by anyone. Submission details and sample proposals are posted at Foldscope.com. Kits will be shipped in August 2014 to the applicants with the best ideas.

“My dream is that someday, every kid will have a Foldscope in their back pocket,” said Prakash.

Previously: Stanford bioengineer develops a 50-cent paper microscope, Stanford microscope inventor featured on TED Talk, Stanford bioengineer developing an “Electric Band-Aid Worm Test and Stanford bioengineers create an ultra-low-cost oral cancer screening tool
Photos by TED and Prakash Lab

Applied Biotechnology, Bioengineering, Global Health, Stanford News, Videos

Stanford microscope inventor featured on TED Talk

Stanford microscope inventor featured on TED Talk

Earlier today I wrote about the 50-cent paper microscope developed by Stanford bioengineering professor Manu Prakash, PhD. You can now watch a video of him building and demonstrating the microscope on TED.com. This TED “Talk of Week” has already been viewed almost 300,000 times.

Prakash, who grew up in the mega-cities of India without a refrigerator, is a leader in the frugal design movement. His lab is currently developing a number of global health solutions, leveraging the cost savings of emerging manufacturing techniques such as 3D printers, laser cutters and conductive ink printing.

Previously: Stanford bioengineer develops a 50-cent paper microscope, Stanford bioengineer developing an “Electric Band-Aid Worm Test and Stanford bioengineers create an ultra-low-cost oral cancer screening tool

Applied Biotechnology, Bioengineering, Global Health, Stanford News, Videos

Stanford bioengineer develops a 50-cent paper microscope

Stanford bioengineer develops a 50-cent paper microscope

UPDATE: A second blog entry, including a link to Prakash’s TED talk on this topic, can be found here. And this entry discusses Prakash’s plans to give away 10,000 build-your-own paper microscope kits to citizen scientists with the most inspiring ideas for things to do with this new invention.

***

When Manu Prakash, PhD, wants to impress lab visitors with the durability of his Origami-based paper microscope, he throws it off a three-story balcony, stomps on it with his foot and dunks it into a water-filled beaker. Miraculously, it still works.

Even more amazing is that this microscope — a bookmark-sized piece of layered cardstock with a micro-lens — only costs about 50 cents in materials to make.

In the video posted above, you can see his “Foldscope” being built in just a few minutes, then used to project giant images of plant tissue on the wall of a dark room.

Prakash’s dream is that this ultra-low-cost microscope will someday be distributed widely to detect dangerous blood-borne diseases like malaria, African sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis and Chagas.

“I wanted to make the best possible disease-detection instrument that we could almost distribute for free,” said Prakash. “What came out of this project is what we call use-and-throw microscopy.”

The Foldscope can be assembled in minutes, includes no mechanical moving parts, packs in a flat configuration, is extremely rugged and can be incinerated after use to safely dispose of infectious biological samples. With minor design modifications, it can be used for bright-field, multi-fluorescence or projection microscopy.

One of the unique design features of the microscope is the use of inexpensive spherical lenses rather than the precision-ground curved glass lenses used in traditional microscopes. These poppy-seed-sized lenses were originally mass produced in various sizes as an abrasive grit that was thrown into industrial tumblers to knock the rough edges off metal parts. In the simplest configuration of the Foldscope, one 17-cent lens is press-fit into a small hole in the center of the slide-mounting platform. Some of his more sophisticated versions use multiple lenses and filters.

To use a Foldscope, a sample is mounted on a microscope slide and wedged between the paper layers of the microscope. With a thumb and forefinger grasping each end of the layered paper strip, a user holds the micro-lens close enough to one eye that eyebrows touch the paper. Focusing and locating a target object are achieved by flexing and sliding the paper platform with the thumb and fingers.

microbes

Because of the unique optical physics of a spherical lens held close to the eye, samples can be magnified up to 2,000 times. (To the right are two disease-causing microbes, Giardia lamblia and Leishmania donovani, photographed through a Foldscope.)

The Foldscope can be customized for the detection of specific organisms by adding various combinations of colored LED lights powered by a watch battery, sample stains and fluorescent filters. It can also be configured to project images on the wall of a dark room.

In addition, Prakash is passionate about mass-producing the Foldscope for educational purposes, to inspire children — our future scientists — to explore and learn from the microscopic world.

In a recent Stanford bioengineering course, Prakash used the Foldscope to teach students about the physics of microscopy. He had the entire class build their own Foldscope. Then teams wrote reports on microscopic observations or designed Foldscope accessories, such a smartphone camera attachment.

For more on Foldscope optics, a materials list and construction details, read Prakash’s technical paper.

Previously: Stanford bioengineer developing an “Electric Band-Aid Worm TestStanford bioengineers create an ultra-low-cost oral cancer screening tool,
Related: Prakash wins Gates grant for paper microscope development

Applied Biotechnology, Bioengineering, Cardiovascular Medicine, Stanford News, Technology

Heart devices get a mobile makeover

Heart devices get a mobile makeover

AUM-close-up-chest560

Emerging diagnostic heart devices are going mobile. And by leveraging advances in smartphones and sensors, they’re able to perform their functions better, faster and cheaper than traditional heart monitoring equipment.

For example, the CADence, shown above, detects blocked arteries from the surface of the chest by identifying the noisy signals of blood turbulence associated with blockages.

The Zio Patch, on the right, is a sensor that can be worn on the chest for up to 14 days to detect intermittent, irregular heartbeats, called arrhythmias. ZIO-150-90

Both of these amazing devices reveal the mysteries of the heart non invasively, and they provide more potentially life-saving heart data to physicians than conventional equipment.

Yet despite these advantages, adoption into the medical system has been slow.

In the new issue of Stanford Medicine magazine on cardiovascular health, I interview the entrepreneurs behind these inventions — the heart gadgeteers — and let them describe the hurdles that add years to the process of launching new medical devices into the marketplace.

Previously: Mysteries of the heart: Stanford Medicine magazine answers cardiovascular questions, New Johnson & Johnson CEO discusses medical device futures at Stanford eventStanford physician-entrepreneur discusses need to change FDA approval process and Is the United States losing ground as a leader of medical innovation?
Photos courtesy of AUM Cardiovascular, iRhythm Technologies

Bioengineering, Global Health, Immunology, Public Health, Stanford News

Working to create a universal flu vaccine

Working to create a universal flu vaccine

Swartz

Exactly one week ago, I found myself unable to get out of bed. I was shaking despite being tucked under mountains of blankets; my head was pounding despite having taken numerous doses of Tylenol. I had gotten the flu and was bitter: Not only was my illness going to derail my weekend’s plans, but I had gotten a flu shots several weeks prior. How unfair, I thought.

The flu shot, of course, doesn’t provide protection against every strain of influenza, and scientists have been on a quest for years for a “universal vaccine” that can offer broader protection. Earlier this week, Stanford researchers announced that they’ve taken important steps towards the creation of such a vaccine. “Their approach arises from a better understanding of the structure of a key protein on the surface of the flu virus and a new process for making vaccines based on that understanding,” Tom Abate writes in this School of Engineering release, which goes on to describe the details of the work.

Abate cautions in the piece that “many steps remain before the research community knows whether this… approach yields a better flu vaccine.” But the lead researcher said he and colleagues are committed to the effort. “This is an important project for world health,” James R. Swartz, PhD, said.

Previously: Flu-vaccine study participant shares his experience, Ask Stanford Med: Answers to your questions about seasonal influenza, Dynamic duo: Flu vaccine plus adjuvant bolsters immunity, European experts debunk six myths about flu shot and Universal influenza vaccine, maybe – eternal, maybe not
Photo of Swartz by Joel Simon

Bioengineering, Events, Humor, Neuroscience, Science, Stanford News, Technology

Can Joe Six-Pack compete with Sid Cyborg?

Can Joe Six-Pack compete with Sid Cyborg?

cyborgA few weeks ago, I blogged about the past half-century’s startling advances in computer competence. Referring obliquely to the Turing test, I mused, “Makes me wonder: Just how long will it be before we can no longer tell our computers from ourselves?”

A week later, as fate would have it, I showed up in a classroom on Stanford’s quad for a discussion between UC-Berkeley philosopher John Searle, PhD, and Stanford artificial-intelligence expert Terry Winograd, PhD, concerning a similar-sounding but subtly deeper question: “Can a computer have a mind?”

Failed philosophy major that I am (see confession), I refrained from raising my hand while Searle recapped his famous “Chinese room” argument. “I don’t understand a word of Chinese,” he told the audience. But were you to arm him with sufficient instructions for responding to myriad character combinations with counterpart character-combination outputs, he claimed, he might be able to fool a remote observer into concluding otherwise. (Philosophers are always “claiming” something or other. How nostalgic!)

Sure, machines might be able to “think” in the sense of manipulating symbols, said Searle. But when it comes to consciousness, such “thoughts” do not a mind make. Syntax (the manipulation of symbols – nothing but ones and zeroes, in this case) isn’t the equivalent of semantics (the effects of those manipulations on our consciousness: in a word, “meaning.)

“We still don’t know how the brain creates consciousness,” Searle said, arguing that to fully understand subjectivity, it will be necessary not merely to simulate brain function but to duplicate it. (A street map is not the same as the city it’s a map of.) That’s a comforting constraint for carbon-based throwbacks such as myself, who would like to feel our dominance is assured, at least for a while, by the excruciating nested complexity of the biological components-within-components-within-components of the human brain.

Aha! The Devil is in the details. (The Tom Südhofs of the world are busily working those out as I write this). Score one for biology: A ones-and-zeroes-based gizmo, which can’t even sprout body hair, may never acquire that precious thing called “consciousness.” At least, not on its own.

But what if nanotech and biotech team up?

Once upon a time before coming to Stanford , I wrote an article titled “The 21st Century Meets the Tin Woodsman” and subtitled: “Can Joe Six-Pack compete with Sid Cyborg?” Consider a scenario wherein computation- and communication-enabled nanoparticles, ingested in a pill, float through the blood-brain barrier and seat themselves at each of the quadrillion or so nerve-cell to nerve-cell contact points in a person’s central nervous system:

With nanobots monitoring every critical neural connection’s involvement in a thought or emotion or experience, you’ll be able to back up your brain – or even try on someone else’s – by plugging into a virtual-reality jack. The brain bots feed your synapses the appropriate electrical signals and you’re off and running, without necessarily moving. If nanotechnology gets traction, all bets are off, because whoever’s packing those brain bots will be infinitely more intelligent than mortal meat puppets like me … I hope our sleek semiconducting successors like pets, because, while the mammalian herding instinct ensures that many of us will go along for the ride, characteristic human obstinacy ensures that many will not.

Call me obstinate. To the best of my knowledge, I’m still 100 percent human. But in ten or twenty years, at the rate things are going, how will I be able to be sure you are, too?

Previously: Step by step, Sudhof stalk the devil in the details, snagged a Nobel, Half-century climb in computer’s competence colloquially captured by Nobelist Michael Levitt and Brains of different people listening to the same piece of music actually respond in the same way
Photo by Javi

Bioengineering, Genetics, History, Immunology, Stanford News

Leonard Herzenberg, FACS developer and Stanford professor, dies

HerzenbergIt’s a huge responsibility (and a privilege) to write about someone’s life after they have died; I inevitably come away wishing I had known the subject personally. That’s how I felt when writing about Leonard Herzenberg, PhD, who died last week. He was a scientific giant and a passionate advocate for those less fortunate than himself, and he and his wife of 60 years, Leonore Herzenberg, collaborated scientifically at Stanford for five decades.

From the obituary:

“Len was a valuable and treasured member of our Stanford Medicine community for more than 50 years,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school. “He was a kind, thoughtful and just person eager to share scientific discoveries and opportunities with his friends and colleagues, and to improve access to education and career-advancement opportunities to women and disadvantaged youth. FACS technology made possible the birth of modern immunology, stem cell research and proteomics, and significantly advanced the clinical care of people with diseases such as cancer and HIV infection. Len’s scientific accomplishments are prodigious. But it is his commitment to helping others that will be his enduring legacy.”

Over and over again I heard words like “warm,” “welcoming” and “remarkable” while writing this article. And, although I had worked with Len Herzenberg in the past (most notably in 2006 when he was awarded the Kyoto Prize), I didn’t realize the extent of his sense of fairness and responsibility to others. From the article:

Herzenberg was well known for his pursuit of social justice, his desire to help those less fortunate then himself and his warm and welcoming demeanor. He donated the money accompanying his Kyoto Prize to nonprofit organizations working to improve health, human rights and education.

And:

[The Herzenbergs] encouraged minority teenagers to pursue a college education by establishing a program to bring high school students from East Palo Alto to Stanford to learn about medicine, biology and the multiple benefits of higher education. In addition, from the 1960s onward, Leonard Herzenberg conducted a behind-the-scenes campaign to expand career advancement opportunities for women in immunology and in science in general.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and remembrances about Len Herzenberg, or messages to his family, on our online guestbook. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations in Len’s memory be made to the Len and Lee Herzenberg endowed fund at the Stanford School of Medicine. Gifts may be sent to Stanford Medical Center Development, 3172 Porter Drive, Suite 210, Palo Alto, CA. 94304, or made online. Plans for a memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Photo by Steve Gladfelter

Stanford Medicine Resources: