Disposable Paper Microscope Costs Just 50 Cents

By Anupum Pant


While doing my daily rounds on the internet today, I came across this awesome piece of modern engineering – An extremely durable and disposable microscope made out of paper and very tiny ball lenses. I saw it first on a Ted talk that I’ve attached below. Ingenious I say!

What’s new?

Microscopes are no longer those sensitive, bulky and costly instruments which were used to observe tiny life forms. These engineers have changed the age-old definition of the microscope. The fold-able paper microscope or foldscope is an origami microscope that weighs just 9 grams and is designed by a Manu Prakash, a Bioengineer professor and his team from Stanford. Instead of costing thousands of dollars, this ingenious origami microscope costs less than a dollar and is set to transform the way people use microscopes.

Besides being light, cheap and foldable, the microscope is water proof, durable to the extent that it can be dropped from the top of a building without getting damaged, does not require any external power, provides a 2000x magnification, can be assembled by a first grader in ten minutes, is easy to carry and is absolutely flat! What more can we ask for!

It can even project the image of bacteria on your wall. How cool is that! I bet your lab microscopes can’t do that.

It is set to transform the lives of those billions of people living in the developing countries. The piece of engineered paper will change the speed and accessibility of medical diagnosis in the poor nations.

Material and actual cost

Well, as the heading tells you it is a 50 cent microscope, not really. It costs only a little more than that. Still, it costs lesser than a dollar – about $0.97. Here is the material cost break-up:

  • Tiny Spherical lens: $0.56
  • 3V button battery: $0.06
  • LED light: $0.21
  • and a couple of other things like tape, paper and switch: $0.14
  • Total: $0.97

Beta testing: The team is currently looking for beta-testers for Foldscope. They’ll choose 10,000 people who would test it in a variety of settings and would help them generate an open source biology/microscopy field manual. See “Ten Thousand Microscopes signup” for details.

It reminds me of

The incredible cheap microscope discussed above is new and very precise. Until recently we didn’t have that. DIYs on the internet taught us to construct (not really) not-so-accurate microscope setups at home using a laser pointer.

All you were supposed to do is point the laser pointer through a suspended drop of bacteria infested water (or other clear liquids).This is how I toyed around (I still do) with a laser pointer to see hazy pictures of possible micro-organisms:

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Meet a 12-year-old Scientist – Peyton Robertson

By Anupum Pant

Today we meet a 12-year-old ‘man’ who has been on an invention spree since he was just 8 years old. If I may use a pop-culture reference, this adorable boy is a Sheldon Copper in the making.

Peyton Robertson from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, presently has 3 patents pending:

  1. A case (box) to maintain a resting golf ball’s temperature – Peyton loves golf. And on one cold day, when he observed that his golf balls weren’t bouncing the way they should have been, he, instead of sleeping on the problem, thought of finding a solution.
  2. Retractable training wheels: This one is a pair of retractable training wheels connected to a lever mechanism on the handle of a bicycle – you press the lever and the training wheels rise up. A perfect solution for kids who want to experience the joy of biking while they are learning to ride. He invented this to help his sister when she was learning to ride a bicycle. Today, bike manufacturers are flocking around him to buy his idea.
  3. A sand-less sand bag: When the super-storm Sandy struck 24 US states in October last year, the entire eastern sea-face from Florida to Maine suffered great losses. It caused a damage of around $65 billion. Peyton saw this and figured that the sand bags that were being used for flood defense contributed to a lot of inefficiency. These bags were 40 pounds each; moving them from one place to another was tough. But they had to be heavy to stop the water. Besides that, the bags when stacked left undesirable gaps in between, which caused a leakage. Peyton felt a need to contribute to make people better equipped for floods in the future.

His solution – A sand-less sand bag – is better than the traditional bag in two ways. Firstly, weighing around 4 pounds, it is significantly lighter than the sand bag. It contains a mixture of, a polymer that expands when it comes in contact with water, and salt which makes it heavy when it wets. Secondly, this bag comes with an interlocking fastener which keeps the bag in place when it expands – Removing any gaps which could create a leak during the floods. Moreover these bags can be dried later to be reused.

The witty sandbag made him the youngest ever person to win the Discovery Young Scientist Challenge. The prize – $25,000 and a trip to Costa Rica!

In an interview with TED blog he said:

Failure is progress and a normal part of the process. Whether it’s science or life, you have to start, fail and just keep pushing. In a football game, time runs out, and a golf match ends after the last hole. But when you are working on something and it doesn’t work, you just extend the game – and give your experiment or your prototype another go.

It was a delight to watch the charming boy speak on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Sadly, that video no longer exists, here’s a replacement with the guy’s own pitch:

A Flashlight That Uses Body Heat Instead of Batteries

By Anupum Pant

I talked about a light that utilizes the power of gravity to light up a few days back. This flashlight is a bit similar in a way that, it also doesn’t need any batteries. But the underlying mechanism it uses, is completely different.

The winner of this year’s Google Science Fair, in the age group of 15-16, was a 15-year-old girl from Canada, Ann Makosinski. In her project she created a flashlight that, instead of batteries, uses our body heat to light up. She calls it “Hollow Flashlight”

The flashlight uses 4 Peltier tiles to convert the temperature difference (between body and room temperatures) into energy. One side of the tiles is heated by our body heat and the other side is at room temperature. This temperature difference creates electricity using the Thermoelectric effect. The tiles used for this light need a minimum of 5 degree difference of temperature to work.

Peltier Tiles

Peltier tiles utilize thermoelectric effect to convert temperature difference into electricity. When there is a enough temperature difference, charge carriers move from hot area to the colder area. This separation of charges builds up a potential difference across the height of the tile. This potential difference can be used up for various things. In this case, it was used to light up LEDs.

Advantages: The amount of potential difference produced depends on the material. Peltier tiles are great because they are compact and they do not use any moving parts. Elimination of any moving parts eliminates wear and tear. They last long and do not need a lot of maintainance. However, their efficiency is not so great. So, they are used only where long life is essential.
The Voyager space probe and other deep space probes, where long life is of prime importance, use Thermoelectric generators (another image). The heat there is produced by a radioactive isotope. Implanted pacemakers which require long life also use it as a source of energy. All of them work utilizing the same effect – thermoelectric effect. The eco-fan, a wood stove fan, also uses the same effect in a very creative way.

Thermoelectric Generators have a very interesting history.