Manu Prakash and his team developed the Foldscope as a cheap way to test for malaria in places where it is challenging to use and maintain a research microscope. In addition, this foldable paper microscope—which reached its crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter within 24 hours when the campaign launched around this time last year—is also an affordable citizen-science tool. Foldscopes are to full-blown microscopes like a phone is to a DSLR camera: affordable, portable, and easy to use. I bought a classroom set of Foldscopes so that I could have some fun with all of my nerdy friends.
The microscopes are easy to assemble using the online video tutorials. They are also intuitive to use by hand, though the viewing hole is very small. When using it with a phone, however (more on that below), I feel like I’m one hand short. They are designed more to be handheld.
When handling the microscope, sometimes the slides catch on the edges of the interior structure, which can be a little annoying, but despite the minor issues I am impressed that I can see things with the same quality as my high-school biology-class microscope without a massive instrument. Getting the lighting can also be challenging, but I’ve found a method to it: what works best for me is to take the microscope, lie on the floor, and hold it above me in front of a ceiling lamp.
Using the Foldscope with my Samsung Galaxy Core Prime required taking the case off of the phone. I’m not sure if this would still be the case for some of the newer phones, but on mine, it was too small to use. My phone’s autofocus also wasn’t a big fan of the setup, but I was still able to take these cool photographs.
You can also project the view through your Foldscope onto the wall, but it didn’t work when I tried it out using a regular flashlight—you must use your phone’s flash, or perhaps a very bright, focused flashlight. You also need to be very close to the wall to see much. Ultimately, it’s a cool gift idea for any of your loved ones who are interested in science, especially biology.
Keep reading for a bonus discussion and photographs of my own blood.
Bonus: Viewing My Own Blood
Note: This section contains descriptions of blood and photos of blood on a microscope slide. There is nothing graphic, but readers who are sensitive to blood-related content may want to stop reading here.
Being as the Foldscope was designed to diagnose malaria, I was very curious to use it to see my own blood. Since I was in my menstrual cycle, it was very easy to sample my own blood. I sampled blood from my menstrual cup using a toothpick and used a piece of tape and one of the stickers that came with the Foldscopes. I also used one of the paper slides.
Thank goodness the paper isn’t all that “papery”—it might actually be a thin plastic—because I put too much of my blood between the tape, and it spilled out of the back a bit. I only used about two drops of blood, so if you do this, you’ll want to only use one drop. I also kind of had to press down on the tape to keep my blood from all clumping in the middle so that I could see it.
I also did not use any microscope dye, which made it quite hard to see, but it was still interesting. I couldn’t really make out the individual blood cells all that well, but I could tell that they were there and that it wasn’t completely flat. If you look very closely you can see the tiny circles of my blood cells.
More views through the Foldscope below.