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With the invention of a $1 paper microscope, Foldscope Instruments is bringing science to everyone. This not only gives students in budget-stricken areas greater access to equipment, but it gives researchers lightweight, durable devices to do research in remote areas on anything from water quality to blood testing.
Foldscope Instruments believes that science should not be cost prohibitive. Using advances in modern micro-optics and flat manufacturing, Foldscope Instruments has developed a paper microscope that will increase access to scientific experimentation. Popped out of its sheet, the flat cut out folds like origami into a usable device that has a 2.38 mm borosilicate glass lens. This magnification is high enough to visualize individual live bacteria. It can be used with the naked eye or hooked up to a camera phone to take photos or video of magnifications. Without a phone, there is a "camera lucida" mode which projects the images and allows the user to draw what they see. But the main innovation is the cost. By reducing bill of materials to around $1, Foldscope has the potential to bring microscopy into every classroom around the world and allow researchers to go anywhere their minds can manage without the bulk, expense, or extensive maintenance required for expensive equipment.
Foldscope was co-invented by Manu Prakash and Jim Cybulski while working together in Prakash’s laboratory at Stanford University. They were inspired by the bulkiness and fragility of equipment that was used for field research. Oftentimes when doing research, they would find the necessary equipment broken or nonexistent. Originally looking to make inexpensive equipment, the pair realized that this could change the accessibility to science for all ages around the world. A person’s questions would drive curiosity, not access to a lab space.
In its initial run, Foldscope distributed 50,000 devices to over 135 countries. It's goal is to focus on both the developed and developing worlds for students and researchers. Those who have used the Foldscope are already employing it into their research as well as on-the-ground health and health care initiatives such as detecting fake medication, sanitation studies, clean water practices in Tanzania, and Project SHINE's HIV testing, among many others. Students from around the world have been connected to each other through an online community of users (microcosmos.foldscope.com) and given the opportunity to do deeper experimentation. As access to equipment is made more available, so are the new, more curious uses of the Foldscope and the impact on various communities.
The demand for the foldable microscope has exceeded anticipation. With the success of their first product, Foldscope Instruments is now putting several other types of low-cost scientific equipment into research and development. Following a similar model of beginning research and prototyping and beta testing at the lab at Stanford, the equipment selected to go into mass production will eventually move into the business, sales, and manufacturing arm of the company. They have disrupted the market with highly usable, inexpensive equipment and have focused heavily on building connections of their two key audiences: field researchers and students. These are continuously replenishing audiences. Staying on top of this emerging industry, Foldscope is in constant communication with its audiences for ways to improve their product, based on the input of those using it for their work.
In tandem with the development of the product, Foldscope also created Microcosmos, an online community for its users. The platform allows both curious explorers, whether academic researchers or motivated citizens and students, a place fro share discoveries and findings easily and find parallels in their research with work being done in other remote areas. It also allows for a place to get feedback and support on research. For classrooms, it offers a connection for students all over the globe to learn together, breaking down location and communication barriers, by doing similar experiments as other classes. It is building confidence in students to share what they are doing regardless of the results. This community for the curious is another way that Foldscope is making science available to anyone with questions.
After the initial beta distribution, Foldscope has made the goal to sell and distribute one million microscopes in 2017, with classroom kits available at the lowest price per piece. Foldscope now has pre-orders available for foldscopes at www.foldscope.com/order, so classrooms can begin reserving units for the next school year. Their goal is to put a microscope in every pocket, making it as ubiquitous as a pencil.
Foldscope Instruments is also working closely with a number of non-profits to foster the implementation of the next round of foldscopes: these groups include the Peace Corps in Senegal, Aavishkaar (a non-profit in India), Kayany Foundation (an NGO that runs school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon), Funbichoco (an NGO that runs education programs in Colombia) and many more.
Max Coyle, Director of Community Engagement
Foldscope Instruments is developing low-cost scientific equipment. Their $1 paper microscopes fold like origami and are transportable anywhere. Foldscope distributes to low income school districts and scientists and also provides an online social network to share and connect their discoveries and findings from any place in the world.