Origami microscopes for college students across India

NI News Network

doi:10.1038/nindia.2015.133 Published online 5 October 2015

The Foldscope design and (inset) Manu Prakash 

© Foldscope Team

What began as a crisp Twitter query to the maker of 'Foldscope', a low cost paper-folding microscope, might soon be the answer to basic research needs for thousands of college-going youngsters across India.

India's Department of Biotechnology (DBT) is partnering with PrakashLab at Stanford University to widely use across India the Foldscope developed by Manu Prakash, an Indian-origin Assistant Professor at Stanford University. The Foldscope is an origami-based print-and-fold optical microscope that can be assembled from a flat sheet of paper. It costs less than a dollar in parts and can provide over 2,000 times magnification at a sub-micron resolution (800nm).

DBT Secretary Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan's Twitter query to Prakash a couple of months back on how the pocket-sized microscope can be used across India has now resulted in a collaboration between the two groups to distribute the minimalistic DIY instrument in about 80 colleges and programmes endorsed by DBT.

Prakash's vision to "bring a microscope into the hands of every single kid in the world” and DBT's goal of furthering "citizen science" will help quell the quintessential curiosity of college goers for microscopic explorations. "The beauty we see and the science underneath it will create a new generation of young scientists in India," VijayRaghavan said in a release.

DBT is hoping to provide the Foldscope sourced from PrakashLab to students of the DBT Star College scheme in phases. The Foldscope will be used as an educational and training tool to understand physics, chemistry, biology and instrumentation, according to the release. Foldscope users can be part of an online community and share insights, projects, questions and scientific discoveries. PrakashLab will run workshops and training sessions in select Indian institutions to take microscope-based inquiry to a larger audience.

After the pilot programme, PrakashLab and DBT will collaborate to explore other low cost instrumentation in colleges, according to the release.