Science On A Budget

Like many college professors, my brother gets involved in scientific research.  When I’ve visited him and toured one of his university’s laboratories, I’m always confronted by delicate and expensive scientific equipment.  If such a lab is necessary for science, how does a third-world country keep current and compete?

How about with “frugal science”?  Manu Prakash is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford University.  Being originally from India, he knows first-hand the problems of third-world research.  But scientific principles are really very simple (think gravity), so there should be a way to make simple equipment.  So he’s invented a dollar microscope.  His invention (which actually costs less than a dollar) is called a Foldscope and is made mostly of paper.  Print a pattern, cut and fold from a single sheet, slap in an inexpensive lens, and you have a microscope that can magnify 2000 times, entirely adequate for education and health care in the third world.

With graduate student George Korir, Prakash has developed a hand-cranked, $5 chemistry tool that uses 19th-century paper punch-tape technology to power a microfluidics chip.  It’s perfect for testing water quality.  He and his students have also designed a  computer that operates on water droplets.

Prakash works with Stanford Bio-X, which encourages interdisciplinary research connected to biology and medicine, and with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. The results of his research are low-cost tools for health care and the environmental.  His frugal science approach is significant enough to have won him a genius grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Using science to best advantage doesn’t have to be expensive.  In fact, it can cost less than a dollar.

Read more about frugal science at

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