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Science Technology

Paper Microscope Magnifies Objects 2100 Times and Costs Less Than $1 89

ananyo writes: "If ever a technology were ripe for disruption, it is the microscope. Microscopes are expensive and need to be serviced and maintained. Unfortunately, one important use of them is in poor-world laboratories and clinics, for identifying pathogens, and such places often have small budgets and lack suitably trained technicians. Now Manu Prakash, a bioengineer at Stanford University, has designed a microscope made almost entirely of paper, which is so cheap that the question of servicing it goes out of the window. Individual Foldscopes are printed on A4 sheets of paper (ideally polymer-coated for durability). A pattern of perforations on the sheet marks out the 'scope's components, which are colour-coded in a way intended to assist the user in the task of assembly. The Foldscope's non-paper components, a poppy-seed-sized spherical lens made of borosilicate or corundum, a light-emitting diode (LED), a watch battery, a switch and some copper tape to complete the electrical circuit, are pressed into or bonded onto the paper. (The lenses are actually bits of abrasive grit intended to roll around in tumblers that smooth-off metal parts.) A high-resolution version of this costs less than a dollar, and offers a magnification of up to 2,100 times and a resolving power of less than a micron. A lower-spec version (up to 400x magnification) costs less than 60 cents."
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Paper Microscope Magnifies Objects 2100 Times and Costs Less Than $1

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  • dupe (Score:5, Informative)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @02:04PM (#46759147) Homepage Journal

    this is of-course a dupe [], but hey, what else is new.

    Ted talk on this device. []

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I think we've seen this one before: []
  • This was a ted talk 2 YEARS ago. Wake up slash editors...
    • by siddesu ( 698447 )
      I still want to know if you can see anything at all at 2k magnification. High magnification is easy. Good images at high magnification is what matters in a microscope.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        and a resolving power of less than a micron.

        Around 1/100th of the width of a human hair.

        • That doesn't answer siddesu's question at all.

          • Well, he didn't strictly ask a question, but that aside:

            I still want to know if you can see anything at all at 2k magnification.

            The answer is: yes, you can see things that are 1/100th the width of a human hair.

            • That still doesn't answer his question.

              Yes, you can see that there is a thing that is 1/100th the width of a hair. Can you see what it is? Can you distinguish it from other similarly sized things in close proximity?

              • That still doesn't answer his question.

                And he still didn't ask a question. Pedantry aside, I've answered his "question" perfectly well, which was "[Can you] see anything at all at 2k magnification[?]" It's actually a pretty vague and pointless question, when you think about it. The answer is either yes, you can see something, or no, you can't see anything.

                For some reason everyone's decided that he was actually asking a far more involved question with all kinds of additional parameters which are being sprung from nowhere.

                Can you see what it is?

                That depends what it is.

  • Overpriced at $0.60 (Score:2, Informative)

    by Animats ( 122034 )

    For only $0.50, you can get this nicer toy microscope [] on Alibaba. People have been making microscopes from drops of water [] or glass beads since Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope. With tiny optics, the view is dim, but it works.

    • That link leads to a microscope that looks a cheap piece of crap.

      The Foldscope (or whatever it is) looks way easier to store, easier for most people to use, and looks like it would also be substantially brighter. If I were choosing between the two I'd pay 10x the cost of that Alibab scope to get a Foldscope instead.

      What is even the magnification on that thing? 0x?

    • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @02:54PM (#46759709) Homepage

      For only $0.50, you can get this nicer toy microscope [] on Alibaba.

      No, you can't. For $10,000 you can get 20,000 of them, but you can't get one at $0.50.

      What's the magnification? I think it might be a bit shy of 2,100x.

    • Shit, if that's more than 20x, I'll eat one.

      Nicer, my ass.

    • by dalias ( 1978986 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @04:18PM (#46760559)
      Toy microscopes don't work at all. Their focus knobs are loose so that you constantly lose focus while trying to see the sample, and they only have one focus knob which makes it essentially impossible to focus to begin with (real microscopes have coarse and fine knobs). And the magnification rating is always fake. If they advertise 400x, expect resolving power so poor that they're essentially 20x or less. I once got one of these pieces of junk and ended up going back to eBay for a $80 vintage Bausch and Lomb scope which I'm very happy with, but sadly I think that was a rare find and I just got lucky.
    • by Extide ( 1002782 )
      LOL, the term "you can get this nicer toy microscope on Alibaba" .. NEVER HEARD BEFORE!!
  • Making a Difference (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eastjesus ( 3182503 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @02:21PM (#46759339)
    Back around 1985 I worked with a teacher in a grade school with a lot of low income students creating a microscope that the kids could build and use out of trash quickly. We used a cardboard box that used to hold wooden matches and cut a flap in the wide sides so light could illuminate the inside and covered one end with aluminum foil. Other boxes could also be used but the slide made it easy to focus. A small hole was punched in the center of the foil. The object to be examined was placed inside on top of the part of the box that slid in and out (which was now exposed to light) and a drop of water put in the hole in the foil. It worked remarkably well and the kids had a great time with it looking at all sorts of things inside and outdoors but maybe the greatest thing was that the kids started thinking about how things worked and coming up with novel solutions rather than just buying something to do the job.
  • Link to the paper (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @02:33PM (#46759497)

    The website is a bit thin on detail. Here's their paper from the FAQ

  • Great. Now, what I want you to do is make it origami onto the cameras everyone is toting around and connect it to an image recognition library / service. Blam. Instant bug detection. Not so sure about the diag? Snap the shot, post it online / send it off and have some pros ID the doodads. Also, video. Microscopic Vine Compilation Videos. I can hear the semen commentary now.

  • by bradgoodman ( 964302 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @02:47PM (#46759627) Homepage
    ....and a poppy-seed-sized spherical lens made of borosilicate or corundum... ...and a light-emitting diode (LED), ...and a watch battery, ...and a switch ...and some copper tape)
  • by nietsch ( 112711 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @03:09PM (#46759883) Homepage Journal

    This is what some uni group thought up to score some charity points with. "look we made an scientific instrument that almost everyone can recognise but almost no-one knows how to use, and made a very cheap & crappy version of it. And since it is cheap, it is good for the poor".
    No thanks. Cheap microscopes have been around for ages, probably because some parents think it will help their kid become a smart scientist later in life. None of these are used in the developing world for medical diagnosis, because there is no need for it. Sending millions of these overseas will help almost no-one.
    Having access to a microscope does not make you a doctor nor will that allow you to make a reliable diagnosis. You need training for that, and that training is way more expensive than the microscope or other tools you will use. And training/people to train is something that is lacking, not microscopes.
    Presenting a technical solution to this social problem will give them praise 'for the good work they do for the poor' but in reality they could have danced raindances in the poor's name to the same effect.

    • by Puff_Of_Hot_Air ( 995689 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2014 @03:24PM (#46760023)
      The whole point of this, the whole point, is to make specialized idiot-proof diagnostic tools. Did you watch the Ted talk? It's short and informative. If you see the vid, you'll see that many of these places have a fancy microscope already that no one can use. With this thing they can create a specialized single use malaria detector for example. Very little training is required to insert slide, look at image, malaria? Yes/No. That's the point of this, that's what they are trying to achieve. It's a good idea, and it could transform diagnosis in the third world.
    • by Anonymous Coward


      Apart from that: There is something called "empty magnification" in microscopy when magnification is increased but no further increase in resolution is obtained. This means you see everything larger as opposed to more detail, i.e. a blurry blob representing the nucleus of a cell just gets larger instead of being visualized in greater detail, being able to see chromatin deposits or the nucleolus. As far as I can remember, obtaining useful magnification into the 1000s requires special condensers, oil imme

    • MOOCs provide free education. Give each child a laptop, or something like that, and they can learn how to use the microscope. Or they can play with it and learn on their own, which is better than not having one, right?

    • by cusco ( 717999 )

      Training does not make one a doctor, either. There are tens of thousands of incompetent quacks in the Third World with medical certificates whose diagnoses are less trustworthy than the old lady who sells herbs in the market, and the quack charges prices that the poor can't afford. If the old lady's granddaughter can use this tool and a printed page with sketches of different microorganisms then the poor have a better chance of getting the help they need.

      BTW, the training does not have to be expensive. C

  • If you go to the University of Washington website and check today's news, you'll see a UW scientist developed an app so you can use your cell phone as a microscope.

    It's an app.

    You don't have to kill trees.

  • Use a penlite instead with much more capacity for 1/20 the price.

  • ...if they open-sourced the design or at least just let me download a PDF so I could print one and make it at home. As the FAQ says, however, "Foldscope is not yet commercially available."

    This, of course, makes me wonder why this needs to be commercial at all...

  • Come on... how much is a chip anyway, just a few grains of sand?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I find it hard to believe that one couldn't stamp out high precision injection molded plastic to which you would add the same components and have a better microscope. How precisely can you print something and then how precisely can you fold it. For microscopes magnifying at x100 or more, mechanical precision and stability is critical. This is something that high quality injection molding is great at. Pick the right plastic with the right fillers and you've got a winner.

    that spherical lens is also going

  • Lets break this down a little bit:
    + This is a device ideally aimed for third world countries
    + No training/procedures for handling the device
    + They will be reusing the item as much as possible to save on costs, regardless if it says "single use".
    + An item that comes into direct contact with the disease.
    = More spread of diseases.

    Its all well and good inventing the tools for the job.
    But who is going to pay the cost for the training to ensure this device doesn't start a mass epidemic?

Air is water with holes in it.