This 50-Cent Paper Microscope Could ‘Democratize Science’

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A couple of months ago, I received an interesting package in the mail. It looked like a standard manila envelope, but inside was a device that could quite possibly revolutionize the way we view the microscopic world. I’m referring to the Foldscope, an origami-based optical microscope that is small enough to fit inside your pocket. The real kicker: the entire cost of the instrument is less than one dollar.

The Foldscope has received some recent and well-deserved media attention (the lab’s publication on this device recently made it in the top 20 papers in PLOS One for 2014) but I hadn’t seen many videos on the Foldscope being put to the test in the field. It seemed like there was a lot of potential for this invention, but I wondered how it would fare on one of my expeditions through a jungle searching for unknown species. So I decided to assemble my miniature paper microscopes and travel to one of the most remote places in the world, the rainforest of the Peruvian Amazon, to give them a go.

The Results

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.

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

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.

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