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TEDGlobal 2012

Manu Prakash: A 50-cent microscope that folds like origami

June 26, 2012

Perhaps you’ve punched out a paper doll or folded an origami swan? TED Fellow Manu Prakash and his team have created a microscope made of paper that's just as easy to fold and use. A sparkling demo that shows how this invention could revolutionize healthcare in developing countries … and turn almost anything into a fun, hands-on science experiment.

Manu Prakash - Physicist, inventor
Manu Prakash is on a mission to bring radical new technology to global health. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
The year is 1800.
00:12
A curious little invention is being talked about.
00:14
It's called a microscope.
00:17
What it allows you to do
00:21
is see tiny little lifeforms
00:22
that are invisible to the naked eye.
00:25
Soon comes the medical discovery
00:27
that many of these lifeforms are actually causes
00:29
of terrible human diseases.
00:33
Imagine what happened to the society
00:35
when they realized
00:38
that an English mom in her teacup
00:40
actually was drinking a monster soup,
00:42
not very far from here. This is from London.
00:45
Fast forward 200 years.
00:49
We still have this monster soup around,
00:51
and it's taken hold in the developing countries
00:54
around the tropical belt.
00:56
Just for malaria itself,
00:59
there are a million deaths a year,
01:01
and more than a billion people
01:04
that need to be tested because they are at risk
01:06
for different species of malarial infections.
01:08
Now it's actually very simple to put a face
01:11
to many of these monsters.
01:14
You take a stain, like acridine orange
01:16
or a fluorescent stain or Giemsa,
01:19
and a microscope, and you look at them.
01:21
They all have faces.
01:24
Why is that so, that Alex in Kenya,
01:26
Fatima in Bangladesh, Navjoot in Mumbai,
01:29
and Julie and Mary in Uganda still wait months
01:32
to be able to diagnose why they are sick?
01:36
And that's primarily because scalability
01:39
of the diagnostics is completely out of reach.
01:42
And remember that number: one billion.
01:45
The problem lies with the microscope itself.
01:49
Even though the pinnacle of modern science,
01:53
research microscopes are
not designed for field testing.
01:55
Neither were they first designed
01:59
for diagnostics at all.
02:00
They are heavy, bulky, really hard to maintain,
02:02
and cost a lot of money.
02:06
This picture is Mahatma Gandhi in the '40s
02:08
using the exact same setup
that we actually use today
02:12
for diagnosing T.B. in his ashram
02:15
in Sevagram in India.
02:17
Two of my students, Jim and James,
02:20
traveled around India and Thailand,
02:23
starting to think about this problem a lot.
02:26
We saw all kinds of donated equipment.
02:28
We saw fungus growing on microscope lenses.
02:30
And we saw people who had a functional microscope
02:33
but just didn't know how to even turn it on.
02:35
What grew out of that work and that trip
02:38
was actually the idea of what we call Foldscopes.
02:41
So what is a Foldscope?
02:45
A Foldscope is a completely functional microscope,
02:47
a platform for fluorescence, bright-field,
02:50
polarization, projection,
02:53
all kinds of advanced microscopy
02:55
built purely by folding paper.
02:57
So, now you think, how is that possible?
03:01
I'm going to show you some examples here,
03:03
and we will run through some of them.
03:05
It starts with a single sheet of paper.
03:07
What you see here is all the possible components
03:11
to build a functional bright-field
and fluorescence microscope.
03:14
So, there are three stages:
03:19
There is the optical stage, the illumination stage
03:21
and the mask-holding stage.
03:23
And there are micro optics at the bottom
03:26
that's actually embedded in the paper itself.
03:28
What you do is, you take it on,
03:31
and just like you are playing like a toy,
03:33
which it is,
03:36
I tab it off,
03:40
and I break it off.
03:46
This paper has no instructions and no languages.
03:49
There is a code, a color code embedded,
03:51
that tells you exactly how to
fold that specific microscope.
03:54
When it's done, it looks something like this,
03:58
has all the functionalities of a standard microscope,
04:01
just like an XY stage,
04:04
a place where a sample slide could go,
04:05
for example right here.
04:10
We didn't want to change this,
04:12
because this is the standard
04:14
that's been optimized for over the years,
04:15
and many health workers are actually used to this.
04:17
So this is what changes,
04:20
but the standard stains all remain the same
04:21
for many different diseases.
04:23
You pop this in.
04:25
There is an XY stage,
04:28
and then there is a focusing stage,
04:32
which is a flexure mechanism
04:34
that's built in paper itself that allows us to move
04:36
and focus the lenses by micron steps.
04:38
So what's really interesting about this object,
04:41
and my students hate when I do this,
04:44
but I'm going to do this anyway,
04:45
is these are rugged devices.
04:47
I can turn it on and throw it on the floor
04:49
and really try to stomp on it.
04:54
And they last, even though they're designed
04:57
from a very flexible material, like paper.
04:59
Another fun fact is, this is what we actually
05:03
send out there as a standard diagnostic tool,
05:05
but here in this envelope
05:09
I have 30 different foldscopes
05:11
of different configurations all in a single folder.
05:14
And I'm going to pick one randomly.
05:19
This one, it turns out, is actually designed
05:21
specifically for malaria,
05:23
because it has the fluorescent filters built
05:25
specifically for diagnosing malaria.
05:27
So the idea of very specific diagnostic microscopes
05:29
comes out of this.
05:33
So up till now, you didn't actually see
05:35
what I would see from one of these setups.
05:38
So what I would like to do is,
05:41
if we could dim the lights, please,
05:42
it turns out foldscopes are
also projection microscopes.
05:44
I have these two microscopes that I'm going to turn --
05:48
go to the back of the wall --
05:50
and just project, and this way you will see
05:52
exactly what I would see.
05:54
What you're looking at --
05:56
(Applause) —
05:58
This is a cross-section of a compound eye,
06:00
and when I'm going to zoom in closer, right there,
06:03
I am going through the z-axis.
06:05
You actually see how the lenses are cut together
06:07
in the cross-section pattern.
06:10
Another example, one of my favorite insects,
06:12
I love to hate this one,
06:14
is a mosquito,
06:16
and you're seeing the antenna of a culex pipiens.
06:18
Right there.
06:22
All from the simple setup that I actually described.
06:25
So my wife has been field testing
06:30
some of our microscopes
06:31
by washing my clothes whenever I forget them
06:33
in the dryer.
06:36
So it turns out they're waterproof, and --
06:38
(Laughter) —
06:41
right here is just fluorescent water,
06:42
and I don't know if you can actually see this.
06:45
This also shows you how
the projection scope works.
06:46
You get to see the beam the
way it's projected and bent.
06:49
Can we get the lights back on again?
06:56
So I'm quickly going to show you,
06:58
since I'm running out of time,
07:00
in terms of how much it costs for us to manufacture,
07:02
the biggest idea was roll-to-roll manufacturing,
07:05
so we built this out of 50 cents of parts and costs.
07:08
(Applause)
07:11
And what this allows us to do
07:14
is to think about a new paradigm in microscopy,
07:16
which we call use-and-throw microscopy.
07:18
I'm going to give you a quick snapshot
07:20
of some of the parts that go in.
07:22
Here is a sheet of paper.
07:24
This is when we were thinking about the idea.
07:26
This is an A4 sheet of paper.
07:28
These are the three stages that you actually see.
07:29
And the optical components, if you
look at the inset up on the right,
07:31
we had to figure out a way to manufacture lenses
07:34
in paper itself at really high throughputs,
07:37
so it uses a process of self-assembly
07:39
and surface tension
07:41
to build achromatic lenses in the paper itself.
07:42
So that's where the lenses go.
07:46
There are some light sources.
07:47
And essentially, in the end,
07:49
all the parts line up because of origami,
07:50
because of the fact that origami allows us
07:53
micron-scale precision of optical alignment.
07:57
So even though this looks like a simple toy,
08:00
the aspects of engineering that go in
08:02
something like this are fairly sophisticated.
08:04
So here is another obvious thing that we would do,
08:07
typically, if I was going to show
08:10
that these microscopes are robust,
08:12
is go to the third floor and
drop it from the floor itself.
08:13
There it is, and it survives.
08:17
So for us, the next step actually
08:20
is really finishing our field trials.
08:22
We are starting at the end of the summer.
08:24
We are at a stage where we'll be
making thousands of microscopes.
08:26
That would be the first time where we would be
08:29
doing field trials with the highest density
08:31
of microscopes ever at a given place.
08:34
We've started collecting data for malaria,
08:36
Chagas disease and giardia from patients themselves.
08:38
And I want to leave you with this picture.
08:42
I had not anticipated this before,
08:44
but a really interesting link
08:46
between hands-on science education
08:48
and global health.
08:50
What are the tools that we're actually providing
08:51
the kids who are going to fight
08:54
this monster soup for tomorrow?
08:56
I would love for them to be able to just print out
08:58
a Foldscope and carry them around in their pockets.
09:00
Thank you.
09:02
(Applause)
09:05

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Manu Prakash - Physicist, inventor
Manu Prakash is on a mission to bring radical new technology to global health.

Why you should listen

An assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, Manu Prakash is a physicist working at the molecular scale to try and understand no less than how the world really works. As he told BusinessWeek in 2010, he is humbled and inspired by nature’s own solutions to the world's biggest problems. "I build and design tools to uncover how and why biological systems so often outsmart us. 

I believe one day we will be able to understand the physical design principles of life on Earth, leading to a new way to look at the world we live in."

Born in Meerut, India, Prakash earned a BTech in computer science and engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur before moving to the United States. He did his master’s and PhD in applied physics at MIT before founding the Prakash Lab at Stanford.

Prakash's ultra-low-cost, "print-and-fold" paper microscope won a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundaton in 2012.

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