According to the World Health Organization, there were approximately 207 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2012, 627,000 of which proved fatal. Unfortunately, the disease most often occurs in developing nations, where diagnostic equipment may not be available. This means that doctors can't determine the particular strain of malaria from which a patient is suffering, and thus don't know which medication will work best. Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of bioengineering at the Stanford School of Medicine, hopes to change that ... using his disposable folding paper microscope.

Known as the Foldscope, the device can be assembled on site by the user in just a few minutes, from flat-packed components. It's made almost entirely of cardstock paper, with the exception of its poppy seed-sized spherical lens. The lenses are in fact actually a type of abrasive grit, used to round off the rough edges of metal parts.

Materials-wise, each microscope is worth about 50 cents. Using them is fairly simple – as Stanford describes it:

"A sample is mounted on a microscope slide and wedged between the paper layers of the microscope. With a thumb and forefinger grasping each end of the layered paper strip, a user holds the micro-lens close enough to one eye that eyebrows touch the paper. Focusing and locating a target object are achieved by flexing and sliding the paper platform with the thumb and fingers. Because of the unique optical physics of a spherical lens held close to the eye, samples can be magnified up to 2,000 times."

Additionally, stains can be added to samples to detect specific organisms, plus a watch battery-powered LED can be added to project images onto a wall.

Not only is the Foldscope dirt cheap and user-friendly, but it's also very rugged, and can simply be incinerated (along with the biological sample in it) after one use. Along with its use in diagnosing blood-borne diseases such as malaria, Prakash hopes that it could also be utilized in educational programs, to inspire children to become scientists.

The Foldscope can be seen in use in the video below.

Source: Stanford University