Foldscope: Microscopy for everyone

We are a research team at PrakashLab at Stanford University, focused on democratizing science by developing scientific tools that can scale up to match problems in global health and science education. Here we describe Foldscope, a new approach for mass manufacturing of optical microscopes that are printed-and-folded from a single flat sheet of paper, akin to Origami.

Check out what people are looking at with Foldscope -

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About This Innovation

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Our mission is to simultaneously impact A) science education by making true a dream that "every kid in the world should carry around a microscope" and B) Global Health by developing disease specific instruments that are designed for diagnostics, are extremely robust and extremely easy to use by health workers. Both these applications enable use of Foldscope in the field (a garden or a forest) and remote or resource poor settings places around the world. We believe in both these mission equally and we are developing a way such that these two missions will support each other - so that we can develop a sustainable platform. Is Foldscope commercially available at this moment? No - not yet. Foldscope is not yet commercially available. Foldscope is a project out of Prakash Lab, a research group in the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University. We are working hard to make the microscopes commercially available via a spinoff/startup while keeping the mission and our goal aligned to the big vision from our viewpoint.

How does your innovation work?

Foldscope is an origami-based print-and-fold optical microscope that can be assembled from a flat sheet of paper. Although it costs less than a dollar in parts, it can provide over 2,000X magnification with sub-micron resolution (800nm), weighs less than two nickels (8.8 g), is small enough to fit in a pocket (70 × 20 × 2 mm3), requires no external power, and can survive being dropped from a 3-story building or stepped on by a person. Its minimalistic, scalable design is inherently application-specific instead of general-purpose gearing towards applications in global health, field based citizen science and K12-science education. Are Foldscope already being used in diagnostic applications? No, not yet. Since disease specific Foldscope are optimized for specific applications, we are currently conducting clinical work in diagnostics space for several diseases including loa loa, malaria, schistosomiasis, african sleeping sickness, chagas disease and so forth. When we have our clinical data from field settings (we work in several developing countries with our collaborators), we will be publishing the same in peer review journals.

Do you have current users or testers?

We are looking for collaborators who work in field settings and have new ideas and patient samples to test the same. You should also have some background in microscopy. We would work directly with a set of field and disease experts to bring Foldscope based diagnostics to specific applications. We intend to engage health professionals and scientists working in global health very broadly. If you work in developing countries, we would love to hear from you.

Having said that, the goal of 10K Microscope Project is to field test microscopes and build the crowd-sourced microscopy manual - and not disease diagnostics and testing. The tools we will provide in beta-testing should not be used as diagnostic tools in any circumstances. The beta-test is for the purpose of exploring the microscopic world broadly and answer curiosity driven questions of microcosmos. Clinical microscopes will be supplied to clinical researchers engaged with our research team focused on healthcare directly - not through the 10K microscope project.

The purpose of 10K microscope project is to build an educational resource that kids in coming generations will have not just a tool like Foldscope; but an inspiration from a very broad range of self-assembled people (you all) to cherish the world of microscopy with. We believe this crowd-sourced resource will revolutionize how biology and microscopy is taught to kids around the world. We are trying to go away from "facts" and focus on "learning to ask questions".

What is your strategy for expanding use of your innovation?

We are a small research lab at Stanford. We tentatively intend to get all the pieces in place to ship microscopes by end of summer; but we can not make any guarantees at this point. We are passionate about bringing microscopy to the masses and are putting a significant effort on this front to make it happen. We need your support as well; so if you can - please think about supporting us.

Is Foldscope an open hardware project? Do you have plans for the same?

We are currently exploring best possible ways to provide quality tools to largest number of people. We have two missions; one in healthcare and one in education. We are exploring all possible options to bring this tool to the masses and exploring licenses that allow us to do this in a sustainable manner. More information about this will be available soon.

Where can I find instructions for building a Foldscope myself?

Optical instruments depend on key components and an assembly process. All the detailed technical instructions and parts are listed in freely available journal paper posted on arXiv. Please read carefully the methods section. Further detailed instructions and videos will also be posted on our website in a short time.

Foldscope: Origami based paper microscope J. Cybulski, J. Clements and M. Prakash PLoS ONE 9(6):e98781. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098781,June 2014


We will be sending kits to 10K microscope project beta testers. Once that is complete, we intend to make these kits available to broader public as well.

Next Steps

What is the status of clinical studies being conducted using Foldscope? 

Various clinical studies and explorations are ongoing by our group. We also work with many collaborators. If you have an idea and would like to collaborate, please drop a line to Prakash Lab P.I. (Manu Prakash). 

Do you know of other projects that are complementary to the efforts by the Foldscope team?

Prof. Dan Fletcher's group at UC Berkeley has a Cellscope project, which converts cell phones to microscopes. You can find more information about them here:
Also, Prof. Ron Vale runs a website to inspire kids about microscopy at: