Giving your child her own microscope might not be something you’ve ever considered. First of all, a microscope is a delicate instrument, more suited to a laboratory than a child’s bedroom. Then there’s the cost; a microscope can cost several thousand rand and requires specific maintenance. It’s also not portable, meaning that samples must be collected and transported home before viewing. From experience, most samples do not make it home in one piece or get lost along the way.
Enter the Foldscope, a microscope that can fit in a child’s backpack, requires no maintenance, and is substantially more affordable than conventional table microscopes. At first glance, a Foldscope does not remotely resemble a microscope: it’s made from plastic-coated cardboard, is assembled by the user, and weighs next-to-nothing. To view a sample, a slide is inserted into the Foldscope and the lens is held up to the eye. It doesn’t require electricity to provide light; natural or lamp light is good enough. Best of all, it is virtually indestructible and water-resistant, making it perfect for kids and for use outdoors.
A Foldscope can be taken along on any adventure, and samples can be viewed while out and about. Almost anything can be investigated, provided it can fit on a standard microscope slide. Foldscope kits come with plastic-coated cardboard slides that can be used over and over. It’s also simple to make slides from cardboard if the original slides get lost or damaged.
Foldscopes were designed by Stanford biophysicist Manu Prakash, and his vision is to provide every child on the planet with their own Foldscope. The implications of providing children with microscopes are profound: by giving children a tool with which to explore a world largely unknown to them, they become empowered to take charge of their own learning. Children become citizen scientists and are given the opportunity to contribute to science in a meaningful way. A wonderful example is a child in Nicaragua who used a Foldscope to teach other children to identify mosquitos that carry the Dengue virus!
In South Africa, the reality is that most schools don’t have access to microscopes. Although the national curriculum contains microscopy modules, most schools don’t cover these sections, leaving a gap in our children’s science knowledge. If a child in Nicaragua armed with a Foldscope can empower other children to play a role in their own health, imagine what our children could do!