Foldscope Promises Microscopes For Everyone!

The folks over at PrakashLab at Standford University have come up with an amazingly simple microscope design called the Foldscope, which could make microscopes feasible in even the most remote areas.

The Foldscope is an optical microscope that can be made out of paper and printed components, much like a piece of origami. It can magnify up to 2,000X, costs less than a dollar to manufacture, and can provide a sub-micron resolution of 800nm. It requires no external power, fits in a pocket, and could survive being dropped off the top of a 3 story building!

It takes advantage of new technologies that make it possible to print micro-optics, micro-electronics, micro-flexures, and even micro-fluidics. Just take a look at the following bill of materials and diagram explaining the mechanism.


The team is looking for 10,000 beta testers, and all you have to do is sign up and then with your Foldscope, develop a single page science experiment or protocol — the goal? To write an open-source, question-driven, biology and microscopy lab manual! Now that is cool.

[Thanks Karl!]

70 thoughts on “Foldscope Promises Microscopes For Everyone!

    1. yes. I buy CR2032’s at $0.05 each all the time. Granted I buy 1000 of them. prices at sparkfun and stores are 2600% markup. find a wholesale outlet and buy in bulk. It makes building LED throwies a lot cheaper.

      1. Try your local pound/dollar store, I got a pack of 100 “watch” batteries (assorted sizes) for… a pound… not all CR2032s, but who says they have to be CR2032.. Presumably someone somewhere made money on the deal. Furthermore, since we are only talking about lighting an LED, two AAA batteries and a couple of wires, or whatever is available locally would do the trick.

  1. Isn’t this (slightly) racist/elitist/patronising? Some white kids at a rich university developing something ‘for the poor’?
    Is there a real need for these microscopes, and is it greater than the need for trained people that can actually use microscopes in a meaningful/useful way? A microscope does not a doctor make.
    How many false positive test will unskilled workers + rudimentary microscopes generate, enough to overwhelm local ‘true’ testing facilities? If you cannot handle the results
    They do have universities in poorer countries too, but I never see similar tools on hackaday that got developed there. MIT is an awful long way from any poor country (except the USA itself of course, but that is another matter), are they really in a good position to gauge the need of the poorest?

    1. This is intended for education not for diagnosis use. Any school of the poors or richs countries could make good use of this at elementary school. You should have read the page pointed at the link.

    2. The page says: ‘gearing towards applications in global health, field based citizen science and K12-science education.’

      ‘everyone’ means ‘everyone’, not ‘the poor’.

      1. except that the non-poor can afford to buy a decent microscope. So cheap for everyone essentially means ‘for the poor’.

        But that was not the point. Is there a genuine need for this thing? I doubt that.

        1. Surely the “need” is from the “poor” you have defined as “not being able to afford better”.
          Really not getting your argument here.

          The only relevant question is “Is it good enough to diagnose or train with”

    3. Not at all. A microscope of this type will allow microscopy to filter down to the individual level. When coupled with low cost tablets and a wireless internet it will allow people to perform many tasks, and to look up data on what they see and what their next step is.
      That said, a conventional microscope could be made for under $10 with clever designs and a turreted microscope for ~~$15.
      These would rely on plastic pressed lenses, which will cost a few cents. Plastic erodes easily, but is also cheap to replace. The supply chain for conventional microscopes has a lot of slack in it to wring out

      1. Sure that is stuff what you could do with it, if you had the knowledge how to and the specific need to do so. Most people don’t need a microscope. I am unconvinced that is different in the developing world.

    4. It seems you are making many assumptions about both the creators of this device and its intended use. It is neither rascist or patronizing. It is empowering. It would be rascist/elitist to deny access to this kind of technology to those too poor to afford conventional microscopic equipment. It is rascist/elitist for you to assume that the intended users of this technology would be incapable of learning how to use it for something positive and useful. You ARE right about one thing when you say “a microscope does not a doctor make”. However, a doctor without a microscope or similar essential gear would be at a major disadvantage, no matter where they live. Someone aspiring to be a doctor or scientist may never have the opportunity to become one without access to things like this. Exposing people (especially kids) to this kind of technology can only improve thier lives, especially when paired with the open model many Universities are embracing where one can “attend” someplace like MIT for free online.

      1. lol I am white… Is it racist ? no offence really but whenever I read BS about how being white and male is racist and patronising I kind feel like joining the kkk or white supremacists… What’s next – maybe we’ll treat proper grammar and logical coherent sentences as racist too ??

      2. Please disregard the previous lol-poster.
        Yes I made some assumptions about the creators that turned out to be wrong. That does not diminish the point I tried to make: how are these people in first world universities able to determine the needs of people in developing countries, and consequently; how large is the actual need for this invention?
        The potential of this thing (you could do x with it, it is empowering!) is not the same as an actual need (‘each year x many children die because the disease they carried could not be diagnosed for lack of a microscope’).

      1. The post you’re replying to is stupid, but you have no idea what the OP’s political leanings are. Making crap up about liberalism in a thread that has nothing to do with politics. Moronic logic at its finest. At least you didn’t blame Obama.

          1. Please, I’ve seen conservatives cry racism so many times when they think they’ve caught a liberal being racist. “Liberals are the real racists” is one of the most popular race-related memes in right-wing media. Who might enjoy calling some presumably-liberal college students racist? Who knows? This isn’t a political blog, so why go starting that crap?

          2. ““Liberals are the real racists” is one of the most popular race-related memes in right-wing media”

            lol wut? There are only 190 google results for that term, which is surprisingly small for any quote you can put in to google, and doesnt support your claim that conservatives cry about racism. Due to how butthurt you are over my comment I can also only assume you’re a die hard liberal, which would make me question how exactly you can consider your expert on the memes of right wing media.

            And regarding who might enjoy calling college students racist, well you can thank racial studies professors, 3rd generation feminists, and the other countless professional victims.

    5. What’s wrong with rich kids developing things for the poor (and who cares whether they’re white)? If people at a university have access to some knowledge and resources that can help the poor, in what universe would using those resource to help people be bad?

      It would actually be the dumbest thing I read today, except that you possibly topped it by saying people shouldn’t have ready access to microscopes because they would misuse them. It’s a microscope! I had one as a kid, and so did lots of other kids I knew. Strangely, us looking at pond water never caused a catastrophe.

    6. The researcher developing this technology is
      (a) named Manu Prakash and is not “white.”
      (b) at Stanford (California), not MIT (Massachusetts).

      “They do have universities in poorer countries too, but I never see similar tools on hackaday that got developed there.”

      If you actually sent Hackaday some links for these projects being developed in “poorer countries,” I’m sure that they’d be interested in posting them.

      If anything, I think you underestimate the passion some people have for helping others and at the same time underestimate the ability of impoverished individuals to use available resources to better themselves.

    7. a small kit of these plus small reagents means they can test for gram positive microbiological contamination, which means they can use antibiotics.

      even a CEO can do this.

    8. Oh yes, its racist/patronizing that anything developed in the first world should be used to help the third world, Comrades through away the antibiotics, vaccines and technology of the first world, sure you’ll die but you’ll feel so much more empowered!

    9. It amazes me how many people have no idea of the value resulting from a little exploration of the microscopic world, It shows the problems caused by inadequate science training in schools.

  2. While kinda amazing and not trying to downgrade the accomplishment. But 800nm is nothing if you wanna do real microscopy. This is more like a toy than any real tool. No offense. Something you’d see in a museum gift shop as a toy for kids.

    1. Many parasites can be imaged with 800 nm resolution. No-one ever said it was research grade, it is a front line tool for some medical uses as well as enormous educational potential.
      And once they squeeze the fat from conventional microscopy, these will also get a lot cheaper.

  3. Certainly requires a lot of fiddling to get a sharp image, if the focus and stage are controlled by shifting paper latches, as the plan in the picture suggests. My best current microscope really old, probably made around 1890-1920, but still better than any new china plastic toy or this thing. So save your money and buy an old microscope for less money than waste it in toys. If the guys in Africa with little money would do the same, and maintain their instruments, they could get good instruments too, since they last for centuries.

    1. If you took an old brass microscope down there, it is worth $10 forscrap and would be a risk to his life by thieves. Many of the enemies in the third world are those of higher class who want to keep you down. Aid is often stolen and rebranded and sold by the drivers who bring it in.
      A few high end pieces are not of great value. These low cost printed microscopes and image many of the parasites and ailments that plague these countries. With an image and an answer, help can be marshalled. If each village had a dozen of these, some of the kids could use them for looking at anything and opening their minds. Remember, these are not stupid people, they lack knowledge and equipment. If equipment could be brought in for a low cost it would help free them from their cultural trap

      I would also like to see a conventional microscope put through this exercise, with plastic parts and plastic lenses internally with only the lenses that face the eye and the specimen being made of glass to resist scratching. (the internals are never touched and can be sealed), I bet you could make a conventional microscope via crowd funding for $10 or so?

  4. Researchers in the field have access to real microscopy tools. Doubtful this would be used as a frontline medical tool by medical doctors . Yes I am an actual m.d. Maybe it might be used by some aspiring student or researcher but even then it would have to be in a really poor area. I see this maybe being used by k12 students but even then this still seems more toy than practical tool for anyone even amateurs wanting to get into microscopy

    Again not trying to knock it overall just not seeing the myriad of uses for real work using this.

    1. It could be very useful as a take-home microscope in K-12 education in poor areas. For amateurs in poor countries, it may literally be the only microscope they could afford.

      1. Well one of the first microscope, the one made by that dutch guy, should be able to make for half a dollar these days, and it was usable too if you see the incredible drawings the users made of what they saw. the thing is that you can use glass since the lens can be tiny and be just a drop of glass. But you need plenty of light though.

          1. So the kid in Africa who has an interest in biology also has to have an interest in building microscopes? If someone wants to market 50 cent microscopes based on CD-ROM lenses, all the power to them, but being able to buy a 3D printed microscope for a $1 seems like the best way to go for someone who just needs a simple, cheap microscope and doesn’t have the skills or resources to build one.

  5. So ‘less than a dollar’ would be about 3 or 4 dollar in reality so that means this will be about 20 euros including shipping then in europe.
    But it isn’t about europe/US though.

    As for powering it (and the picture clearly shows ‘watch battery’ regardless of HaD saying ‘requires no external power’), if it takes a watch battery it means solar should also work.

  6. saw the ted talk on this, seemed pretty cool,
    i’m a bit skeptical about how well it can focus (and stay in focus)
    but it’s probably just as good as any kids microscope or maybe even better
    good enough for what their intention is anyway
    i think i’ll sign up to test it out

    1. my thought exactly I’m more interested in how they made that thing (can we replicate this at home printing micro optics would be awesome) that the end results… and be serious 2k magnification at 850nm resolution pfff what a joke someone got their specs confused… i know for a fact that modern top of the line equipment struggle with everything above 1k magnification if you want to get even more you need to switch to high tech superresolution microscope or electon microscopes…

  7. This is one of the most excellent inventions I’ve seen come out in a long time! Gotta get ’em into the hands of kids quick as possible. Lighting the spark of a young mind starts a fire that lasts a lifetime, and this is one of the gems that’ll launch many a good ship. Show an 8 yr old the eye of a fly with this and then watch as they inspect everything they can find for the next few days. Re-start them at 10 by looking at yeast cells… watch them go again! Spoiled milk. Yogurt. Plant mites. Plus I’m sure there are many practical uses for these around the everyday home.

    Real gem HAD! Thanks.

  8. I’ve seen some negative comments about what this thing will be able to do. As someone who lives and works in Africa this thing could make an incredible difference in so many ways! Even in the research project I am currently involved with this would have come in so handy – we had to make do with using a rubbish phone microscope I made with a DVD drive lens instead… What these guys are doing is really cool, and if more people had their attitude our world would be a better place.

  9. Not trying to be negative. Just trying to be honest on the practicality of this in practice. How sharp is the resolution really? If its so low in resolution and the images are blurry its nothing more than a toy for kiddies. Some have the attitude well its better than nothing,etc etc. Is it amazing that they were able to accomplish this? Sure but not sure if this will foster a interest in microscopy to such an extent. It reminds me of those who love to proclaim all tablets and laptops available for kids would revolutionize tech. Just because they have access to it doesn’t automatically mean it will foster a thirst for doing microscopy any more than giving me a paintbrush automatically i wanna be an artist

    You can get older reliable microscopes that are more sturdy and reliable. Doctors and researchers are not going to use this as its nothing more than a novelty. Is it possible it might be used somewhere by someone starting out sure but pumping out tons of “novelty ms’s” i highly doubt is going to make such a surge in scientists. There’s this myth that if we bring in technology etc it will automatically make their lives better, more opportunities,etc.

    Sorry to be skeptical but I’m not sure this is going to exactly be so practical as to do on a widespread basis especially given that the resolution and quality isn’t that great. . Speaking as doctor and a researcher (neuropathology) a better choice would be to make avaliable older refurbished microscopes vs. giving what appears t be a gimped viewing lens

    1. I have seen some of these early glass bead microscopes, and they can be sharp, but tend to color aberration due to the simple lens. If they can make a lens of two glasses to compensate, or if they can make a dual plastic lens that compensates I would be preferable.
      They can also make a low cost lens based on reflection –, which is automatically polychromatic. This would need 2 spaced reflective surfaces, and they could be cheap and adaptable to this printed mounting, but would need to be made conventionally, but are amenable to low cost bulk pressed technology.

      1. to be honest i don’t really get your point… peter was talking about 10-15 year old microscope not 200 year old technology (come on glass beads)?? also i don’t see why you should care about chromatic aberration with a monochromatic light source (its a green led from what i can tell not and RGB or “white” led). reflective microscopy could work in theory but then again you would have significant drawbacks…. all in all I have the same opinion as peter I’m pretty sure this thing is nothing more than a nice gadget but i highly doubt it could have any kind of useful application.. other that education of course….

        1. I refer to the original microscopes that used simple lenses that were little more than glass beads that is what these flat printed microscopes will use. A simple microscope with high magnification = very close focus = beadlike shape. They might use plastic molded short focus lenses. I am not sure if they are going to use a multi element lens in this printed microscope, but it would improve the performance The use of restricted frequency green or other monochromatic light via LEDs does mitigate the color aberration problem, if you do not need color information.
          A used 15 year old microscope made in the costly manner of the 19th century with many costly parts needs to be refabricated to keep the performamce, and remove the cost. How big is this market?

  10. Reading this discussion; I realized it might be helpful to link the original article we posted on ArXiv with all the details and answers (and 36 pages in total for people who want to know the details of the optical components – condenser lenses, objectives, apertures and light sources). Many questions here related to applications in healthcare (images for diseases we are targeting, resolution needed etc.; see figure 5) and education are also addressed in the same.

    Also, we primarily work in the field (Uganda and Nigeria; and sometimes in India) and we will be publishing our field studies soon. But to get a sense of field sites, and get a feeling for what work is like in the field; you can find some images here:

    Thanks again for all the feedback. If you are curious about trying the microscopes; please consider becoming a beta-tester and help us write a crowd sourced biology/microscopy manual with a goal of bridging the training gap that exists in the world in both kids and health-care workers in the field.


  11. I think the government will be sad to see people finally being able to see the extra small print on their tax documents. Used car dealers and insurance agencies will hate this when everyone can finally see their small print now. Ha! Ha! Ha!

    I think this paper foldscope is incredibly awesome!!! I want one as soon as possible!!! I could check mosquitoes for West Nile and AIDS/HIV. I could search the bottom of my bank account to see if it is really as empty as the bank says. Ha! Ha!

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