Stanford Indian makes Science out of Japanese Art

ORIGAMI !? – How many of us are familiar with the Japanese art of folding paper into a variety of decorative forms?  The Indian born physicist and inventor, Manu Prakash, has gone way ahead to introduce us to his origami based microscope which is simple, compact and most of all affordable.

An assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, Manu Prakash and his team are a curiosity driven research group in the field of engineering and physical biology. They aim at developing novel technologies with clinical applications focused at resource-deprived locations. Prakash graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur followed by his master’s and PhD in Applied Physics at MIT before founding the Prakash Lab at Stanford.

His study says that there are a million deaths a year, and more than a billion people that need to be tested because they are at risk for different species of malarial infections. This formed the base for Manu’s research, where he believes that scalability of the diagnostics is completely out of reach and that the setback is the microscope itself.

Manu Prakash

Manu Prakash

Manu also had two of his students – Jim and James tour around India and Thailand to analyze these equipments. To their shock, they only found fungus growing on microscopic lenses and people merely ignorant on how to turn on the device.

All this initial case study motivated them to design something called the ‘Foldscope’, a completely functional microscope, built purely by folding paper. It is a platform for fluorescence, bright field, polarization, projection and all kinds of advanced microscopy.

The design of the foldscope – origami-based optical microscope is rather too simple. It can be assembled from a flat sheet of paper in less than 10 minutes. The paper has no instructions and no languages. There is a color code embedded, that tells exactly how to fold that specific microscope. There is a slot where a sample slide could be fit. The design did not intend to change the ‘slide’ concept, as it is the standard that has been optimized for over the years and many health workers are actually used to this.

This incredibly cheap device provides over 2,000X magnification with submicron resolution, weighs less than 10g, requires no external power and fits perfectly into an envelope. Different foldscopes of different configurations can be built and all of them can be stored in a single folder. Best of all, it costs less than a dollar. The team also proudly claims that the foldscope is resistant to impact and water.

To sum up, Manu Prakash and his team have striped away all the complexities involved in a conventional microscope that virtually remained unchanged for years.
This ultra-low cost microscope is expected to revolutionize medical diagnosis and promote hands-on science education, thus inspiring the younger generation to think and contribute more towards science & engineering.