Low-cost paper microscope folds like origami

The Foldscope is a microscope that can be folded from a schematic printed on a piece of A4 paper and with a couple of additional components, it costs as little as 50 cents.

(Credit: Foldscope Team)

The Foldscope is a microscope that can be folded from a schematic printed on a piece of A4 paper and with a couple of additional components, it costs as little as 50 cents.

Stanford University's Manu Prakash wants to share low-cost scientific equipment with the world. Supplying developing countries with microscopes, he believes, could revolutionise their health care — but such equipment doesn't come cheap.

This is why Prakash and a team of students have built Foldscope: a paper microscope that can be folded together, based on the principles of origami. The device is printed on a sheet of paper with the components, which include the microoptics, lens, illumination and coin batteries for power, already embedded.

(Credit: Foldscope Team)

The parts of the microscope can be punched out of the sheet, then constructed using a colour code that shows you how to put it together. It works, Prakash said, like a standard fluorescence and brightlight microscope, with a slot for your slide. You focus by bending the microscope, which flexes the lens.

The whole kit is built to be rugged, and can be configured for different diseases. One model, for example, has fluorescent filters designed for diagnosing malaria. When you have your slide in place, you can then use the Foldscope as a projector — and the whole rig can be made for as little as 50 cents, making it perfect for developing countries, or even to be included as a page in educational science workbooks.

Prakash and his team are currently seeking field testers for the Foldscope. You can sign up on the Foldscope website, and view the team's paper, "Foldscope: Origami-based paper microscope", on arXiv.

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