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This Paper Microscope Costs Just 97 Cents

Foldscope is a paper microscope that fits in your pocket and can be assembled for less than a dollar. And it works, too.

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Microscopes have come a long way since eyeglass makers started using their lenses to look closer and closer at the world around them. But they’ve also gotten a lot more expensive. A modern scanning electron microscope could cost a lab $250,000. A nice desktop scope will set you back anywhere from $500 to $1,000—not a practical purchase, and sometimes out of the budget for clinics and research projects that could really use one.

What would an affordable microscope look like? Well, it'd be simple, and it'd be made out of cheap materials, but it would still be good enough to get the job done. It might look something like a microscope made out of paper, for less than a dollar.

Stanford scientists have developed what they call the Foldscope, a paper microscope that fits in your pocket and can be assembled in the field, in a lab, or anywhere you are. You can watch creator Manu Prakash talking about and assembling the scope in the video above. And it works too. According to Foldscope:

Foldscope is an origami-based 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 provide over 2,000X magnification with sub-micron resolution (800nm), weighs less than two nickels (8.8 g), is small enough to fit in a pocket (70 × 20 × 2 mm3), requires no external power, and can survive being dropped from a 3-story building or stepped on by a person. Its minimalistic, scalable design is inherently application-specific instead of general-purpose, gearing towards applications in global health, field based citizen science and K12-science education.

Foldscope is also currently looking for people to help them test out their origami contraption:

We will be choosing 10,000 people who would like to test the microscopes in a variety of settings and help us generate an open source biology/microscopy field manual written by people from all walks of life. 

From clinics in Nigeria to field sites in that Amazon, the scope could give people a cheaper, easier way to access the tiny worlds around them. 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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