Paper can do a lot. It can hold a love letter, carry a novel, or be transformed into an elegant crane. Paper is a versatile tool, but for the most part, we see it as a medium for writing and art. Besides its use for printing scientific papers and medical charts, we don’t really see it as a tool for science or medicine. But paper is a unique tool. It is versatile, affordable, disposable, and it exists nearly everywhere in the world. How are these traits not something deemed useful for science?
Well, as a matter of fact, they are. Stanford bioengineer, Manu Prakash, and his colleagues have developed a microscope that can be made with just one sheet of cardstock. The sheet is printed with a foldable design and can be assembled in less than 10 minutes. With the addition of a small lens and an LED light, the price tag on the microscope ends up at just 50 cents, a minuscule fraction of the price of a regular microscope.
The microscope, called the Foldscope, is meant to be a cheap, easily accessible, durable, and disposable medical screening tool for use in developing countries. And due to these qualities, it is also an attractive tool for field research and education, where money is tight and durability is a necessity. The scopes can provide up to 2000x magnification, can be dropped or stepped on without doing damage, and are even able to project magnified images onto a wall or screen. With this type of magnification, you can detect and diagnose malaria and other diseases. And with that price tag, even if you did manage to break it, making a new one is as simple as pressing print.
Science and technology can be complicated. But oftentimes, the most beautiful, elegant solutions are as simple as… well, a sheet of paper.
All images credited to the FoldScope Team.