Frugal Science-Nothing short of amazing

Dr. Pakresh holds a paper microscope before folding.

Manu Pakresh of Stanford University has invented a paper microscope, called a foldscope, which is powerful enough to identify mosquitos that carry the dengue and other viruses, detect cervical cancer, and more. It costs less than $1.00 with inexpensive lenses and batteries. There is a plan and support to send out 1,000,000 to over 130 countries.

Much of our health care depends on diagnoses obtained from costly medical equipment. A centrifuge, which tests blood and urine is one of the cheapest instruments at $1,000 and provides excellent information in diagnosing disease.

In a Ted talk, Dr.Pakresh described parts of the world where over a billion people live without electricity, making a donated centrifuge so pointless that in one remote village, it was used as a doorstop. He goes on to describe a device based on a toy whirligig, or a button on a pair of strings. He invented a paperfuge to which one can tape a tiny tube of blood obtained with a lancet, which can then be spun by hand to achieve results capable of separating blood cells in order to detect anemia, malaria, and more. When people live 6 hours from the nearest road, this is a lifesaver. The device costs 20 cents and obviously requires no electricity.

Humans do not have a world location map  of the different varieties of mosquitos in the world. Professor Pakresh  would like to solicit the aid of many volunteers to record mosquito whines. While mosquitoes are difficult to distinguish visibly, their whines are distinct and can be easily recorded with a $5-$10 flip cell phone. Since different mosquitos carry different diseases, the implication for world health is significant.

A curious young girl wanted to count the muscles on an ant leg.

These cheap but powerful instruments could make a huge impact on improving healthcare worldwide, but the good professor sees yet another long-lasting benefit. Born in an underdeveloped country, he sees the availability of these tools in schools as tapping the inherent curiosity of children everywhere and creating a new generation of scientists who will further improve the human condition.


Sources: Ted Talk
Foldscope materials 
More Foldscope info