Bioethics Blogs

Print-and-Fold Origami Microscope for 50 cents

Using the Foldscope

Caption: Here I am checking out the Foldscope at the White House Maker Faire on June 18. Very cool!
Credit: Manu Prakash, Stanford

When Stanford University bioengineer Manu Prakash traveled to a mosquito-infested rainforest in Thailand a couple of years ago, he visited a clinic with a sophisticated, $100,000 microscope that sat unused in a locked room. It was then Prakash realized that what global health workers really need is an ultra-low cost, simple-to-use, portable microscope that could be deployed in the field to diagnose disease—and he took it upon himself to develop one!

The result is the Foldscope, a ‘use and throwaway’ microscope that Prakash demonstrated last week at the first-ever Maker Faire at the White House. 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.

Here’s what you need to know about the Foldscope. It’s made out of thick, waterproof paper and a glass-and-polymer lens that’s the size of a large grain of sand. While it can be used by simply holding the device up to the sun or a light bulb, there’s also a version illuminated by tiny LEDs powered by an inexpensive watch battery.

The framework of the Foldscope is printed onto a sheet of paper that’s perforated in a way that each shape can be easily snapped out and folded in a manner resembling the traditional Japanese art of origami. A diagram showing how to assemble the Foldscope is even included on the sheet, and can be understood by anyone, regardless of their native language.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.