A couple of months ago, I received an in the mail. It looked like a standard manila envelope, but inside was a device that could quite possibly revolutionize the way we view the microscopic world. I'm referring to the , an origami-based optical microscope that is small enough to fit inside your pocket. The real kicker: the entire cost of the instrument is less than one dollar.
The Foldscope has received some recent and well-deserved (the lab's publication on this device recently made it in the in PLOS One for 2014) but I hadn't seen many videos on the Foldscope being put to the test . It seemed like there was a lot of potential for this invention, but I wondered how it would fare on one of my expeditions through a jungle searching for unknown species. So I decided to assemble my miniature paper microscopes and travel to one of the most remote places in the world, the rainforest of the , to give them a go.
Some of the diverse arthropod specimens could potentially be new to science, so it was really exciting to document images and videos of these organisms right there in the field by connecting my phone to the Foldscope.
Suspecting that the galls were formed by some sort of wasp or fly, I later got in touch with a couple of Diptera (fly) experts, Morgan Jackson () and Dr. Stephen Gaimari, who helped identify the gall forming culprits as a possible species of fly belonging to the family .
|A spider infected by a parasitic fungus known as Cordyceps. The circles show regions of the fungus viewed under the Foldscope.|
The research team, led by Dr. Manu Prakash, seeks to "democratize science" by developing tools that are able to scale up to match problems in global health and science education -- and I believe they are doing just that with the Foldscope. This device is cheap, easy to use and broadly applicable whether you're a curious young student, a medical professional in the field or someone who is interested in the numerous tiny things that surround us. Until now, I've never had a device that made viewing and sharing the microcosmos so accessible.