Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Frugal Science Microscope

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

By Cybulski J, Clements J, Prakash M
[CC BY 4.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

In a previous post about Leeuwenhoek's microscopes I mentioned a replica based on Leeuwenhoek's microscope which was part of the ess science kit, Small Things.

The Foldscope Microscope
By Cybulski J, Clements J,
Prakash M
[CC BY 4.0
via Wikimedia Commons

Manu Prakash, a biophysicist in Stanford University's bioengineering department is the inventor of another small microscope. It is known as the Foldscope. Prakash is the subject of an Annals of Science essay by Carolyn Kormann in The New Yorker. Prakash made his first microscope when he was a kid in Mawana, India.

Prakash's microscope consists of a plastic lens and a sheet of paper which can be folded "with a series of origami-style folds," according to Kormann who constructed one from a kit. It can even be attached to a smartphone allowing what is observed to be recorded. It is cheap, even when amped up for more technical applications.

It is an "everyman's" microscope, one to be used by young learners as well as by adults to study the natural world. Prakash makes me think he'd have kids carrying these around the way some of use to carry hand lenses in our pockets to look at what Prakash calls the "microcosmos."

Microscopes make abundance of life abundantly clear
Iridos at the English language Wikipedia
[GFDL ( or
via Wikimedia Commons
In 2009, Elizabeth Blackburn was awarded the Nobel prize for her work on the function of telomeres, structures at the end of chromosomes that protects them.  In an animated Nature video she talks about how her love of the natural world, especially microscopic forms have inspired her curiosity and her work. In this video she notes that the enormous abundance of life is one that "microscopes make abundantly clear."

Her studies focus on Tetrahymena, a ciliated protozoan which Leeuwenhoek likely noticed, too. It is a remarkable sturdy organism.

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