To help make microscopes as accessible and as sturdy as pencils, Stanford University biophysicist Manu Prakash created an ultra-low-cost origami-based microscope. He was inspired by a 2011 visit to a Thailand clinic where the local team was intimidated from using the state-of-the-art microscopes for fear of somehow damaging them.
The Foldscope, his paper-based alternative, is easy to assemble and costs less than a dollar to manufacture. In this New Yorker video, Prakash demonstrates the microscope as he discusses human curiosity and microscopic beauty.
More on this DIY assembly invention at Wikipedia:
A Foldscope is an optical microscope that can be assembled from a punched sheet of cardstock, a spherical plastic lens, a light emitting diode and a diffuser panel, along with a watch battery that powers the LED. Once assembled, the Foldscope is about the size of a bookmark. The Foldscope weighs 8 grams and comes in a kit with multiple lenses that provide magnification from 140X to 2,000X. The kit also includes magnets that can be stuck onto the Foldscope to attach it to a smartphone, allowing the user to take pictures of the magnification. The magnification power is enough to enable the spotting of organisms such as Leishmania donovani and Escherichia coli, as well as malarial parasites. A Foldscope can be printed on a standard A4 sheet of paper and assembled in seven minutes. Prakash claims that the Foldscope can survive harsh conditions, including being thrown in water or from a five-story building.
Nov 2016 update: Foldscope is on Kickstarter. Get one or a classroom pack.
Watch this next: Animated Life – Seeing the Invisible.