Stellenbosch University
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Learners discover microscopic world with $1 Foldscope microscopes
Author: Elbie Els
Published: 22/05/2019

Twenty eight grade ten and eleven learners from Makupula and Kayamandi High Schools in Stellenbosch had the opportunity to attend workshops in the use of a microscope made mainly out of paper – named the Foldscope microscope. Two workshops were presented by Grace Hu, a student of bio-engineer Prof Manu Prakash from Stanford University. The workshops were hosted by the Central Analytical Facilities and was organized by Prof Lydia-Marie Joubert, manager of the Electron Microscopy Unit.


  Grace Hu and Prof Lydia-Marie Joubert with learners.             Learners building their own Foldscopes.                        Grace Hu the presenter.

Prakash and his colleagues designed a microscope that is cheap, small and foldable and mainly made out of paper. It was introduced to other countries since 2015. It can give magnifications of over 2000 and costs less than one dollar to develop. “To me it is like the pencil of microscopy. Pencils are everywhere so should be microscopes" Prakash said. He has the vision that every child in the world should carry a microscope in their pocket.

Learners at the workshops each received a small bag with the different parts of the Foldscope microscope which they had to build themselves with the help of Hu and a demonstration video. They were excited to see what lives inside polluted water from the local Krom River, as well as chloroplasts in leaf cells and what parts of an insect look like looking through this microscope.

For Prakash it is important what the community can get out of it – science to the service of people. He said that it is obvious that you will never be able to do everything with this microscope that you can do in a laboratory with expensive equipment, but that every person now has the opportunity to start. They have shipped Foldscopes to people in more than 130 countries and many creative results followed. In the Amazon researchers studied insects in their habitat with the Foldscope microscope.

Joubert is excited about this way of studying the microscopic world and said that being able to see the invisible, opens up new worlds to students of all ages. "Science becomes a reality, and even fun to explore. This brings a better understanding of challenges such as water pollution, and an appreciation of the natural world around us. Making this opportunity available to every child on earth is now possible, and we are delighted to be hosting these workshops with Prakash's team at Stanford."

Photos by Prof Lydia-Marie Joubert and Elbie Els