So I keep babbling about Foldscopes because – THEY ARE REALLY COOL! These are out of a Stanford lab developed with funds from the Gates Foundation to help defeat Malaria. As a scientist and mom, there are a trillion things to do with these things. Time and time again, when I talk about these scopes to people I get the same shocked look and question – “How can a PAPER microscope work?” Followed usually by a question on where they can get one for their kid, classroom, science outreach, own backpack/purse.

Here’s our experience with the basic Foldscope. Keep in mind, that if you support one of the kits, you get additional accessories. We received the paper scope, lenses, magnetic clips (for cell phone photography), and double stick tape, which is a perfect start. As a certified microbial geek, I had slides and cover slips around the house.

Instructions, 2 sheets with Foldscopes, 2 sheets of tape “coverslips”, light source, double stick tape, magnetic clips, and lenses.

Assembly Party

We invited a neighborhood friend over for our first “assembly” party. Which was lots of fun! First the girls popped out the scope parts.


Watching the assembly video helped us put our scopes together.

Putting the optics stage into the rest of the scope.


All the pieces ready to assemble!
Inserting the lens into the lens holder


Differences between Foldscope and Compound Scopes


Unlike traditional compound scopes where the lens is in one place and the slide moves around, the Foldscope does the opposite. Your lens moves over the slide. This took some getting used to for me, but I think it’s actually more intuitive for folks who haven’t done much microscopy.

The stage moves lens over the slide.

Finally, focus and resolution – on a regular scope you have a series of knobs nested one into the other -one for fine and one for course focus. With the Foldscope you use your thumbs to move the lens closer to or further away from the subject. Brilliant solution! Check out the gif below for an over-exaggeration of how that works.

The lens module moves close and away from the slide for focusing.

In the end – it’s honestly pretty amazing what you see. Don’t expect the entire field to be in focus, the lens is round like a ball, not flattened. What you do see is that the center of the image is crisp and near the edges are out of focus. Of course, with a cell phone attached to the Foldscope, you can use your magnifying option to enlarge the sharpest part of the image.

The Microcosmos Community

Another amazing part of Foldscope is the community. Each Foldscope has it’s own unique ID. You register the ID at Microcosmos and share your Foldscope adventures! There are some really interesting people to follow there and several great videos for learning new skills. Here’s my first post at Microcosmos. Nothing earth-shattering, just a diatom spread from my high school science fair project.

Here’s a great post on microscopic algae I really enjoyed.

Think this is too good to be true? Read the scientific publication on the Foldscope or see this video.


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