About this project
The Foldscope, a portable and versatile microscope made mostly out of paper (water-proof), magnifies the wonders of the microscopic world, without the bulk and expense of a conventional research microscope. Foldscope is designed to bring microscopy out of science laboratories and into the hands of people around the world.
It's a real microscope!
Foldscope is a real microscope, with magnification and resolution sufficient for imaging live individual cells, cellular organelles, embryos, swimming bacteria and much more. Because the Foldscope is so affordable and can be used anywhere, it brings science to your daily life, whether that means looking at what's growing in your flower pot or watching bacteria from your mouth or analysing the bee stinger that got your thumb. Our goal is to encourage and enable the curious explorer in each of us and make science happen anywhere, anytime.
(All the footage in the video below was collected in the field using a standard Foldscope with 140X lens, coupled to an iPhone).
When we say everyone, we mean everyone - grandpa, mom or that cousin who never really liked science. We strongly believe that curiosity is sparked by genuine "aha" moments. By unshackling microscopes from lab benches and making them affordable for everyone, we can all start seeing the microscopic world which defines our health, our built environment and almost all the magic we call "life". Don't just read about this in a book; actually see and feel a racing heart of a microscopic animal or wonder what's that little thing in your water.
Since its conception, Foldscope has been tackling the idea of equality of access to scientific tools, starting with powerful yet affordable microscopes. From the conception of the phase 1 of this project (at PrakashLab, Stanford University), almost five years ago, we built, designed and shipped (free of any cost) 50,000 Foldscopes to kids (and teachers, home-school moms, classrooms, naturalists, gem collectors, bee-keepers, tribal kids, camel herders, space scientists, parasitologists, scrap-metal collectors.. you get the point) around the world in 130+ countries. All this was done via grant support and charitable donations (last year alone, we spent nearly $75,000 just on shipping costs).
See the following video from Kikim Media and the Moore Foundation for more on the community we have already engaged during beta testing of Foldscope:
Let's envision a society truly engaged in science.
Foldscope Donation Program
As part of our Kickstarter campaign, we wanted to find a way to match Foldscope donors with schools and organizations around the world where Foldscopes could make a great impact.
Our solution is the Kickstarter donation program:
To nominate a recipient, fill out this form.
To donate to a nominated recipient:
1. Please see this page for a list of nominated recipients. Pick a group you would like to support.
2. Fill out this form to pledge your support to that school/organization.
3. Back the Kickstarter campaign and pick a reward tier that matches the need of the recipient you have chosen (donors at the "Super-Teacher", "100 Club", and "500 Club" levels will also receive their own deluxe individual kit and Foldscope t-shirt)
4. At the end of the campaign, you will receive more information for directing your donation
After many years of work, we decided to focus on two key Foldscope kits - one geared towards individual use where an explorer of the microscopic world can work alone anywhere with all needed supplies: the Foldscope itself, but also field tools for sample handling, preparation and of course documentation, to record and share your observations and discoveries.
This is the Foldscope Individual Deluxe Kit.
As shown above, the Foldscope Individual kit contains one Foldscope but many more key items that allow you to collect, separate, prepare and mount live samples in outdoor/field settings, with all your tools available right at the moment you need them in a compact portable format - akin to a pencil box of science. See below in "Technical Specs" for more detailed description of kit contents.
The Foldscope Classroom Kit (20 to 500 Foldscope)
The classroom kit is designed to engage a large number of students, volunteers and explorers. Classroom kits provide a Foldsope for each student, and accessories to be distributed amongst the class. Our kits can scale from 20 students all the way to 500 students. Here is the breakdown of everything a given kit includes:
Working with kids around the world, we always recommend that you give the Foldscope to the student to keep and take home with them. If you were to teach a kid how to draw with a pencil, you would not take that away afterwards - would you? We apply the same philosophy to a Foldscope, and we have seen some remarkable results.
Wear your support (get a Foldscope T-shirt)
If you are someone who is passionate about Foldscope; why not show it by getting an exclusive Foldscope T-shirt, featuring our lovable mascot "Tardi" the tardigrade.
New Foldscope Features
Foldscope have been tested in field environments around the world, from the scorching heat of the Sahara Desert to the rainfalls of Panama. They have passed through curious hands of 5-year olds and grandmothers alike. Following standard care practices, the tools can survive several years.
More recently, we have also added the following new features to every standard Foldscope kit:
- Focus locking (enables a locked focus for long term, time lapse imaging)
- Field of view locking (allows users to pass microscopes with samples around without loosing the field of view)
- Pseudo-phase contrast and dark-field illumination: By adjusting illumination, Foldscope can be used in bright-field, dark-field, and pseudo-phase contrast modes (see below)
What Can You See with a Foldscope?
Foldscope lets you explore a previously invisible world of microscopic shapes and life forms. It could be anything from: live amoeba, bacteria, algae, pollen, diatoms, cyanobacteria, ants, mites, fungi, spider eggs, mosquito larvae, bees, vorticella, suctorians, tardigrades, nematodes, stem cells, rotifers, daphnia, hydra, flower petals, salt, baking soda, onion cells, red blood cells, cheek cells, bird feathers, copepods... you can find documentation of literally thousands of applications and examples generated by users from around the world. Have you ever wondered how a mosquito larvae breathes underwater or how a cell splits in two or what paints a butterfly uses on its wing?
How Does It Work?
Foldscope can be used in three different modes with similar performance; (1) Eye-view (2) Coupled to any Smart Phone (phone not included) (3) Projection microscopy (requires external flash light, not included).
While it is simple to use the Foldscope, extensive development, prototyping, and design for manufacturing went into producing the tool. The design leverages recent advances in micro-optics as well as the concept of "flat manufacturing" for large-scale production. To learn more, please read details in the open-access journal article: Foldscope paper.
Key results in the paper describe how to analytically derive an expression for "resolution" for fat lenses. Although we have used many different lenses in a Foldscope in the past, the current kit will ship with 140x magnification borosilicate lens with nearly 2 micron resolution. In the future, we will expand our offerings to include other higher magnification lenses.
For a great discussion of how Foldscope uses micro-optics to bend light and produce magnified images, see this excellent explainer from KQED Science:
We make robots that make microscopes. Here is one such robot in action:
For a more thorough discussion of some of the technical features behind Foldscope design and functionality, see Manu Prakash’s talk on iBiology.
“The Foldscope can really help with some preventive measures. For example if you look at leaves, if you see that there are pest eggs that are coming up on the leaves, we can localize which part of the agriculture field has been infested.” - Sewar Sudhish (Dayalbagh, India)
Our pilot program, beginning in PrakashLab at Stanford University, asked participants: “what would you do with a Foldscope?” The responses were incredible. We set a goal of making 50,000 Foldscopes, and we delivered pilot kits to people in 135 countries.
“It has changed how I perceive the spaces in which I live. Places that seem like they’re very manicured are actually very wild” -Matthew Rossi (artist)
Not only were our users dispersed across the globe, they represented a huge variety of ages, and had a wide range of experience with science, from young students to amateur hobbyists to regarded academics. Foldscopes were used in classrooms, in the backyard, on the backs of elephants, and many other places.
Furthermore, we asked pilot users to share their experiences as part of an online community. We created microcosmos.foldscope.com as a platform for this communication. To date, users around the world share discoveries, techniques, challenges, and notes on workshops.
“The online community is perhaps one of the most attractive aspects of the Foldscope - when you see a beautiful post by somebody, or when you see, say, a fly, you want to go and see it yourself..this aspect of sharing of science is something which is very unique.” Lakshminarayan Iyer (NIH)
Bugs in the Amazon
The simple, portable, and affordable design of the Foldscope allows you to take it with you anywhere. Foldscopes can be used in very remote and rural areas. Entomologist Aaron Pomerantz brought the Foldscope with him to the Peruvian Amazon to explore the astonishing variety of plants and insects there.
“Insects are small, and out in the rainforest they are hyper-diverse and hyper-abundant, so that’s why I was interested in this portable, more robust piece of equipment that I could take out with me” - Aaron Pomerantz (entomologist)
Water Quality in Tanzania
In Tanzania, Project SHINE used Foldscopes to encourage students to ask questions about their local environment, including those related to water quality and sanitation.
“When a person uses this Foldscope, they realize that it is good to wash hands because they have seen that there is dangerous bacterias which they will make me to have suffering from different diseases” - Crown Moses (student)
The world has an astonishing microscopic biodiversity that we are just beginning to discover. It is estimated that 99% of species are invisible to the naked eye. Providing an unprecedented number of microscopes to curious explorers around the world promises to help us document this biodiversity together. To date, Foldscope users have identified 150+ species across 80+ orders, represented in the Tree of Life below (with accompanying Foldscope-generated images).
Foldscope was co-invented by Manu Prakash and Jim Cybulski while Jim was a PhD student in Mechanical Engineering in Prakash laboratory at Stanford University. The inspiration for the Foldscope came from field work around the world (specifically a visit to Thailand in 2011) where they continually encountered bulky, broken microscopes, or a lack of microscopes entirely. PrakashLab continues to work, field-test and deploy frugal science tools in global health and diagnostics applications. Foldscope Instruments is scaling up production and manufacturing with the first step of further growing our science education community.
One thing that brings us all together - we love to Foldscope. No dinner party is complete unless multiple times a food item has passed through the Foldscope. And no trip is complete unless we have stopped multiple times to look at some curious object we stumbled upon. You might wonder how we get anything done. But we do..
Manu (above in Nigeria) is the co-inventor of Foldscope and co-founder of Foldscope Instruments. He is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford University and runs a curiosity-driven lab, with a big emphasis on Frugal Science, where Foldscope was first invented and developed/deployed during phase 1 of the project.
Jim (above in Tanzania) is the co-inventor of Foldscope, and has spent the last 5 years developing and field testing Foldscope all over the world as a PhD student in PrakashLab at Stanford. As President and CEO of Foldscope Instruments, based in San Francisco, he leads our efforts to provide access to scientific tools across the globe.
Christine (above in India) assists Foldscope Instruments with administration, operations, and accounting. She has decades of experience in IT and web development.
Max (above in Santa Cruz) directs community development and engagement for Foldscope Instruments. His background is in molecular biology research and science communication.
Big Thank You
This project has been a long term team efforts of countless people who have engaged along the way. The bulk of the work was conducted in PrakashLab at Stanford University. We thank members of the PrakashLab who have engaged in countless workshops, late night microscope assembly parties (when we had to assemble 500 microscopes for the president) and uncountable visits to schools around the world. We also thank and continue to engage Foldscope superusers (regular foldscope users who mentor others) that form our vibrant community. Special thanks to Lakshminarayan Iyer (NIH staff) for being an incredible partner and friend in shaping the Foldscope community and starting the first official Foldscope Club - DC Micronauts (kudos to every young member of the club) - and Rebecca Konte (incredibly talented scientific illustrator).
It's hard to list every incredible supporting hand we have had in our last 5 year journey - but here is a partial incomplete list. He have met and admired inspiring Foldscope community members who continue to shape our thinking including Matthew Rossi (NY based artist), Aaron Pomerantz (Berkeley), Damon Tighe (BioRad Science Ambasador), Alice Dai (high school intern), EDEN Educational Center (Tamil Nadu, India), DayalBagh Educational Institute (Agra, India), SEPA ASSET Project (Cornell), Kadam sisters (Dharavi Diaries), Ebbe Andersen, Kids Club Philippines, Mark Kirollos, Rachel Kim, Marie Herring, Tom Hata, George Herring, Laurel Kroo, Matthew Bull, Saad Bhamla, Haripriya Mukundarajan, Aanika Radiya, Sheri Bastein (Project SHINE), Dino Ott, James Clements, Sam Bray, David Cranor, Jay Silver (and his entire Makey Makey team), Kikim Media, Molly and Jennifer (Sparklight partners), PIVOT, CalValBio (Pat Wright and team), Mark Krasnow (and his team at Stanford), ENS Madagascar, Mike Eisen (Berkeley), Lenny Teytelman (Protocols.io), Martin Chalfie (Coulmbia University), Bruce Alberts (UCSF), Ron Vale (UCSF), Sarah Goodwin (iBiology), Sophie Dumont (UCSF), Dumont Lab members, Joshua Guild (UCSF), Thea Clarke (ASCB), Judy Sakanari (UCSF), Joe Derisi (UCSF), Zev Bryant (Stanford), Rob Pringle (Princeton), Drew Endy (Stanford), Arvind Gupta (Toy maker), Marcos Bruno (Argentina), new and old friends at ManyLabs (Peter Sand and others) and many many many more.
Our core supporters have also been organizations who have believed in our mission from the early days, starting with incredible support from Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and champion of curiosity driven science education (Janet Coffey); Simons Foundation (Boyana Konforti), Sigma Aldrich, Department of Science and Technology, India (VijayRaghaven and Shailja). PrakashLab was suported in early days by Baxter Foundation, Coulter Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pew Foundation and Anonymous Donors to the Foldscope program.
We continue to work with partners passionate about science education around the world and collaborate with people around the world. Please contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. We hope you will join us in our simple mission to get a microscope into the hands of every kid in the world.
Risks and challenges
The Foldscope includes optical, electronic, and mechanical components that form the complete instrument. With the kits offered in this campaign, there will be even more parts that need to be coordinated and assembled to make the full product.
Several risks include manufacturing delays, quality control issues on the manufacturing end, and logistical complications from kit assembly and fulfilment.
As a team, we have already designed, assembled and delivered 50,000 similar Foldscope units to 135 countries. Our team members have prior start-up experience in hardware categories. We have already lined up our vendors and manufacturing partners for scaling up Foldscope production, and some parts have already been delivered.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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