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Meet the Foldscope: A Powerful Origami Microscope

Few scientific instruments can claim to be as ubiquitous as the microscope. Instrumental in many fields of science, the microscope has allowed us to observe worlds too small to see with the naked eye. We've been able to discover the cell with the optical microscope, and even see magnifications of up to 10 million times with the more powerful electron microscope.

Optical microscopes can be extremely useful educational tools. However, even the most rudimentary of these instruments can be too costly for economically disadvantaged schools. Microscopes are also fragile and difficult to transport, which can be a problem for students in rural areas.

These problems with traditional microscopes could be solved by a new design called Foldscope. Designed by a bioengineering lab at Stanford University, Foldscope is folded from a single sheet of printed paper. The design is based on the Japanese art of origami, which means "paper folding." The Foldscope prototype allows for several different imaging capabilities, is cheap to produce, and lightweight.

While the Foldscope is still in development and is not commercially available yet, its capabilities look promising. A cheap, lightweight microscope design like this travels easily and can be used in areas without electricity. One potential application for Foldscope is in healthcare: microscopes are often necessary for diagnostics, and a simple device like this could be used by healthcare workers in rural areas.

Check out the Foldscope website for examples of how the prototypes are used. What would you use the Foldscope for in your classroom?


Image credit: Foldscope