Paper Microscope Can Be Made in Minutes

Stanford University

What can you get for a single dollar? A candy bar? A bottle of water? What about a microscope capable of detecting malaria? Yes, seriously. Thanks to a new creation from a team of bioengineers at Stanford, a potentially life-saving tool can be had for about the same price as a pack of gum.

Dr. Manu Prakash led the team that developed the FoldScope. It can be printed on a piece of paper and folded together, which has been described in detail in a paper published in arXiv. With the addition of a few extra parts like a lens, watch battery, and LED light, the fully functional microscope can be made in about ten minutes and costs less than a dollar. 

The strength of the magnification is dependent on the type of lens used, but it is capable of viewing things at a magnification of 2,000x. Prakash has given lectures in order to discuss the implications a cheap-yet-functional microscope could have for doctors in the developing world as a diagnostic tool. These are also a great option for use in classrooms and for researchers who need a portable microscope. Each battery can last about 50 hours, which gives plenty of time to explore the microscopic world for diagnosing potentially deadly disease, studying a sample while out in the field, or to give a child their first look at something much smaller than themselves.

Because the microscope is mostly paper, it won’t break if it gets dropped onto the ground. As an added bonus, the slides are made of tape, not glass (you can almost hear science teachers everywhere breathing a collective sigh of relief). It is also able to be customized, based on the type of LED used to illuminate the slide. Fluorescent molecular biomarkers can become illuminated by certain wavelengths, making certain features of the sample easier to study.

How well does the microscope actually work? Check out these samples, all taken at 140-1140x magnification:

Image credit: PrakashLab at Stanford University

Learn more about how the FoldScope is made here:

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