Monday, March 10, 2014

Foldscope: DIY microscope holds promise in battles against disease

Foldscope design, components and usage. 

(A) CAD layout of Foldscope paper components on an A4 sheet. 

(B) Schematic of an assembled Foldscope illustrating panning.

(C) cross-sectional view illustrating flexure-based focusing. 

(D) Foldscope components and tools used in the assembly, including 

Foldscope paper components, ball lens, button-cell battery, surface-mounted LED, switch, copper tape and polymeric filters. 

(E) Different modalities assembled from colored paper stock. 

(F) Novice users demonstrating the technique for using the Foldscope.

G) Demonstration of the field-rugged design, such as stomping under foot. Credit: 

Did they say fifty cents? That is how much researchers say it would cost, and maybe less, to make a microscope that you print on a piece of paper and then add some components and assemble in minutes, not hours.

Manu Prakash
Stanford University's Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of bioengineering, and colleagues have been working on merging principles of optical design with origami.

The result is something in the order of origami optics, or you might call it by the title of the team's paper detailing their work, "Foldscope: Origami-based paper microscope," submitted earlier this month on arXiv.

Prakash had presented the idea in a 2012 TED talk, and now the research paper, explaining the team's Foldscope, was authored by James Cybulski, James Clements, and Prakash, representing Stanford's departments of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering.

The authors wrote that they are presenting "ultra-low cost brightfield, darkfield, and fluorescence microscopes designed for rugged applications in science and education."

The end result is a light, rugged instrument with imaging capabilities for use as portable microscopes.

One motivating driver to create their Foldscope was as a low-cost medical screening tool in developing countries where medical researchers study organisms to guide treatment and practitioners cope with such diseases such as malaria.

In the online tech mag Gizmodo an article on Foldscope observed, "A cheap, long-lasting, easily transported microscope means quicker diagnosis and treatment in places where doctors can't count on a fully-stocked laboratory."

Another key benefit would be augmenting science education to children in developing and developed countries.

"By removing cost barriers, Foldscope provides new opportunities for a vast user base, said the Stanford team.

"Many children around the world have never used a microscope, even in developed countries like the United States. A universal program providing 'a microscope for every child' could foster deep interest in science at an early age."

One challenge in doing so has been availability of tools previously cost-prohibitive.

More Information: Foldscope: Origami-based paper microscope, arXiv:1403.1211 [physics.optics]

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