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Foldscope: A Foldable Microscope Made of Paper

A team at PrakashLab at Stanford University have developed a microscope that can be assembled, origami-style, from a flat sheet of paper. You can put it in your pocket and assemble it when you need it -and it cost less than a dollar to produce! It’s called the Foldscope.

Aaron Pomeranz of the Tambopata Research Center in the Peruvian Amazon (previously at Neatorama) received a Foldscope to try out in the rainforest. How does it perform? Pomeranz says,

Long story short, this device is amazing. During my time in the Amazon rainforest, I was able to investigate tiny insects, mites, fungi, and plant cells from 140x to 480x magnification without requiring a large and expensive conventional microscope.

Some of the diverse arthropod specimens could potentially be new to science, so it was really exciting to document images and videos of these organisms right there in the field by connecting my phone to the Foldscope.

He connected a cell phone to the Foldscope to record microscopic images. Continue reading to see them!

Top left, a leaf is covered in galls. Top right, a cross-section of a gall; notice the tiny insect larva living inside! Bottom, the larva was placed under the Foldscope and viewed on my cell phone. Pictures and videos were recorded in real-time out in the Amazon rainforest

A spider infected by a parasitic fungus known as Cordyceps. The circles show regions of the fungus viewed under the Foldscope

The cells from a flower petal recorded by connecting a cell phone to the Foldscope

[banana for scale]

Pomeranz is quite pleased with the Foldscope, and its implications for both research and education.

The research team, led by Dr. Manu Prakash, seeks to “democratize science” by developing tools that are able to scale up to match problems in global health and science education - and I believe they are doing just that with the Foldscope. This device is cheap, easy to use, and broadly applicable whether you're a curious young student, a medical professional in the field, or someone who is interested in the numerous tiny things that surround us. Until now, I've never had a device that made viewing and sharing the microcosmos so accessible.

(YouTube link)

Read more about the field trial of the Folscope at Rainforest expeditions.

All images and captions by Aaron Pomeranz. -Thanks, Jeff Cremer!


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