Who would you educate with a pocket-sized paper microscope that costs ~ $1? Foldscope launches a Kickstarter campaign to “put a microscope in everyone’s hands.”
Want to visit another world full of bizarre and beautiful creatures like you’ve never before imagined? Such a hidden world surrounds you wherever you are – the microscopic world. What? Don’t you have a microscope? Foldscope, a new Kickstarter project, aims to change that. Foldscope is a microscope made out of folded paper, a lens the size of a pinhead, and a piece of plastic to serve as a coverslip over a paper “slide”. With these simple materials, my 8-year-old daughter entered the fascinating microscopic world. Foldscope’s goal is to distribute at least a 1 million paper microscopes around the world to share the mystery and beauty of the hidden world around us. Considering their Kickstarter campaign had 1,000 backers and $40,000 of their $50,000 goal within 2 hours of launch, they are easily positioned to do that. However, they need scientists and educators to help convey the wonder of the microscopic world to the public. As one of the inventors, Manu Prakash told me, “This isn’t just a personal tool, but is about bringing the microscopic world to communities everywhere. It is a way to communicate and demonstrate science to everyone.”
Seeing “Animalcules” Everywhere
Initially, Manu Prakash and then PhD student, Jim Cybulski, from Stanford University’s Department of Bioengineering had support from the Gates Foundation to design a low-cost way to diagnose malaria. Visiting malaria-prone countries such as Thailand, Kenya, and India, the Prakash lab consistently heard the need for microscopes for diagnosis. Even student grade microscopes are expensive for many clinics. Where microscopes were present they were broken, in poor condition, or needed electricity. Clinicians also found them difficult to use or intimidating. Thus, the idea for the Foldscope – a cheap, rugged, “disposable”, but good quality microscope was born. After all, the first discovery of microscopic life (and microbiomes) was made over 330 years ago by Antone van Leuwenhoek using a brass, spherical, single lens microscope he designed. Foldscope uses the precision and strength of origami and a single sphere glass lens to give users 140 X magnification. Similar to the magnification Leuwenhoeck had, Foldscope users can see everything from protists to bacteria. Before Leuwenhoeck’s “animalcules”, illnesses were thought to be caused by “bad air”. The revelation that microscopic organisms made animals sick and spoiled food and wine, changed medicine and science forever.
Revolutionizing Citizen Science with Microscopy
Foldscopes will revolutionize both science and society as fundamentally as Leuwenhoeck by allowing anyone to observe their own “animalcules”. While originally designed for field work and rural clinics, Prakash also hopes to inspire people to become closer to their own environments by exploring the hidden world around them. He dreams of building teams of scientists who use these microscopes to better engage the public about science and the natural world. To that end, the Kickstarter campaign pledge levels are set up at individual (1 deluxe scope +accessories $15), teacher (20 foldscopes +accessories $20), bulk purchases of 100 or 500 scopes with accessories. Accessories include magnetic cell phone clips, a LED light source, journals, Petri dishes and plates, PVC slides and coverslips, strainers, plastic pipettes, and more. For the cost of 2 student grade microscopes, a STEM club or K-12 science classroom can GIVE 100 kids their own microscopes. What a dream to be able to send kids home with a paper microscope that they could keep in their backpacks to look at anything at a moment’s notice! While Foldscopes won’t be available for a 2016 Christmas, the tardigrade shirt will OR look below at some of my microbial recommendations. For a few celebrations, I’ve given my older daughter “coupons” for activities. Maybe start with a book and then continue the journey when your Foldscope arrives.
Share the Microbial Love with Kids
One thing I LOVE about the Kickstarter is the ability to sponsor schools. What better Christmas present for the teacher in your life? What kid wouldn’t love a Foldscope STEM program done in their honor? Have a person who has it all to buy for? Donate in their name to sponsor a school by supplying them with Foldscopes! Anyone interested in supporting Baltimore schools – let me know!
I’ve started my Foldscope journey and hope you join me. I’m certainly looking forward to using these in Baltimore and where ever I go. One will permanately be in my backpack or purse. I’ll be featuring more about Foldscope in the next few days and weeks, so follow my social media updates and the blog for photos. To see what other Foldscope users have already done, check out these amazing videos and posts about the Foldscope “Microcosmos” community. I’d love to see any of your Foldscope images or hear HOW you and WHO you would like to educate with Foldscopes either below in the comments or through social media using #microexplorers.
Share the Microbial Love
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