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Foldscope – DIY microscope built for less than $1


 “Magnify curiosity worldwide”

  Image source, PLoS ONE

  A few weeks ago I excitedly received my Foldscope in the mail. I was one of 8,457 backers in a successful Foldscope kickstarter campaign, that resulted in a first round production of 60,000 origami-inspired paper microscopes. The deluxe kit included the sturdy, water resistant paper microscope frame that is constructed into a moveable stage with a focus “knob”, and includes a spherical micro-lens enabling 140x magnification and ~2 micron resolution.

  The microscope requires no power, is indestructible and can be mounted to a smart phone for digital image recording. The kit also came with numerous sample preparation materials, including slides and coverslips, tweezers, pipettes, filter paper, mesh strainers, scissors and and eppendorf tubes. Slides are prepared, inserted into the frame, and you position your eye to the lens to directly view the sample. Rotating the microscope when placed in front of a light source allows you to view brightfield or darkfield imaging, which has a profound effect on your sample. I have not  yet explored the LED illuminator/ magnifier, which provides an LED light source and supports pre-screening a sample for larger organisms, prior to mounting the slide to the scope.

  The foldscope was recently described in an open-access, PLoS ONE manuscript. Below are several images of what is possible with this system. Microorganisms as small as bacteria can be seen, as well as larger creatures like parasites, amoeba, nematodes, or  lady bug limbs. There are countless examples of student images posted on the foldscope microcosmos website. What I truly love about this system is the unlimited potential for children (and hopefully adults) to explore the unseen world. The foldscope motto is brilliant: “magnifying curiousity worldwide”.

  Fundamental to the mission of the foldscope team is to provide low-cost scientific tools, in order to break down the barrier of access for people to explore their scientific curiosity. While the microscope can be assembled for less $1 in parts, the current price for the deluxe kit is $35US. There are bundle prices for classes, with extremely reasonable prices for 20-100 basic kits. I am hoping to integrate the Foldscope  into a ‘home lab kit’ for Athabasca University online, biology courses. This microscope is a great example of ‘frugal science’,  where through innovation a new product is designed to meet a need, and there is no sacrifice in quality.

  There are so many applications for the foldscope. It has great potential in education and to inspire budding scientists, but can also make a serious contribution to research and solving real world problems. For example, the Foldscope can be used to detect microbial contaminants in rural drinking water supplies, or possibly in diagnosing blood-borne disease like malaria, African sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis and Chagas. My 9 year is very excited about our ongoing search for tardigrades, I hope to present some images soon of the local west coast tardigrades.

  The second round of production is underway, with an ambitious goal of distributing 1,000,000 foldscopes by the end of 2018. I think this product and concept has great potential to be ‘disruptive’. There are exponential possibilities by “providing every child a microscope”. I look forward to witnessing how the Foldscope community uses this tool, and to  learning about future products in their pipeline.


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I love using genomics, synthetic and molecular biology to engineer microbes. I am excited about the potential of synthetic biology to create new technologies with massively transformative potential.


  1. Greg

    Hi Shawn

    Hook it up if you can to a Raz Pi to capture images and post process etc.

    Two great pieces of cheap innovation that I’m sure Kidz would rave about.

    Just ideas


    • Raz Pi is something slightly new to me, I’m sure you could do this. It’s certainly cheaper than a smartphone. I am exploring using Raz Pi to measure luminescence from bacterial samples.

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