When diagnosing people in the developing world, health workers often go into the field lugging bulky, fragile, and expensive microscopes. “We ship research equipment and hope it’ll survive,” says Manu Prakash, a biophysicist. While traveling in Thailand, the scientist dreamt up a lightweight, low-cost alternative: a pocket-sized paper microscope made from a single sheet of folded paper, a pair of lenses, and an LED. Approximate cost: $1.
Prakash’s Foldscope could have a big impact on diagnosing disease in remote or resource-poor regions of the world. The microscope is not only cheap to produce, it’s also relatively sophisticated, achieving a magnification of 2,000 times—equal to the power of a desktop instrument costing $1,000. Prakash, a 34-year-old assistant professor at Stanford, is currently working on refining the optics to improve the resolution from 700 nanometers, which is sharp enough for diagnosing African sleeping sickness, shistosomiasis, loiasis, and many other diarrheal diseases. Malaria and tuberculosis are next, he says.