Foldscope - Simple and Affordable Hand Held Microscope


Foldscope is a simple and affordable hand-held microscope developed in 2014 by Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, US and his team of graduate students. This article gives a detailed description of this innovation.

Introduction

Foldscope is a low-cost microscope developed by Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, US and his team of graduate students. The first prototype was developed in the year 2014. One of his students James Cybulski is credited for further refining of the idea of opening up the commercial and hi-end aspects of this innovation.

The idea of creating a low-cost microscope using simple parts struck to Manu Prakash in 2011, when he was having a scientific visit to a field station in Thailand. There, he observed that though expensive microscopes were available in the station, people seldom used them and were afraid of or apprehended that this costly equipment might go bad or broken by their mistakes or mishandlings. It made Manu Prakash think to create a cheap, affordable and versatile device which was sturdy enough to be used in field conditions and people should not have a hitch to use it. He also thought to supply the Foldscope in form of an easy to assemble kit so that people can assemble it themselves.

His idea got recognition from many organisations and some of them even funded him for developing this device. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gave a grant of US $100,000 for this research to him in November 2012.

What is a Foldscope

The Foldscope comes as a kit containing a punched sheet of thick plastic coated paper which can be easily folded along the guidelines, a LED (light emitting diode), a watch battery and spherical glass lens kit with multiple lenses providing magnification from 140X to 2000X. This magnification is sufficient to observe microbes in crops or other agricultural and dairy products in remote field conditions, where having an expensive microscope is neither possible nor affordable.

The kit also comes with a magnet with which it can be attached to a smartphone for taking the pictures of the sample. Foldscope kit has a precise folding system akin to Japanese Origami art and it helps for the required optical focusing.

After folding, the Foldscope looks like a flat piece of a device which can be held in the palm and a microscope slide with a sample to be studied can be pushed and moved in between the two layers of the paper using the thumb and forefingers and eye can be kept on the lens to see the sample. For different samples, the lens is to be changed depending upon the magnification required.

The use of this Foldscope is very easy and is an ideal device to be used in remote field areas for detection of pathogens and other microbes for their early identification so that remedial action to control the pest or disease can be taken up quickly by the concerned agencies.

What is the Cost of Foldscope

The prototype developed by Manu Prakash costs only around $1 in the US as all the components used are the cheapest parts available in the market. Even the ordinary spherical lens is used in place of the high precision ground lens generally used in the costly high-end microscopes.

What is the Foldscope Project

Manu Prakash had initiated an ambitious Foldscope Project which got funded from some of the foundations like Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and under it 50000 numbers of Foldscope were planned to be distributed in various countries to the students and people in remote areas to use it and give feedback and share their experience in a site called Foldscope Explore. Manu Prakash feels that by increasing the usage of this device in such remote places around the world a lot of data regarding the microorganisms can be collected which can eventually lead ways to learn the advantages for mankind from the natural abilities of these organisms.

In 2015, the Department of Biotechnology in our country also announced a pilot program to use these Foldscopes in schools as a teaching aid for the students of Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

Future Scope in the Foldscope Innovation

The Foldscope has proven itself as an affordable device to examine and analyse the scientific samples in various natural and biodiversity situations. It's increasing use will open up new vistas and dimensions for its acceptability in the remote agricultural and forest areas.

Presently it is not adapted to be used as a medical diagnostic tool because there are risks of getting infected from the contaminated samples as it has to be brought very near to the body while adjusting it for focussing and pinpointing the sample.

Jim Cybulski, who is a former student of Manu Prakash, is doing research to develop a modified Foldscope for medical diagnostic testing, which will cost at least $10 and will have facility of a built-in projection system so that more people can view the magnified results on a screen rather than bringing it near to their eyes and cheek skin.

Conclusion

Foldscope is a brilliant innovation which paves ways for other such innovations for replacement of costly scientific instruments. Scientists like Manu Prakash have shown that simple and affordable scientific devices can be designed and fabricated for the use of common masses and can be made available in the remotest part of the world for scientific exploration.


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