The first microscopes were simply telescopes that were trained on small objects rather than on celestial ones.
The telescope of the tiny were made of nested tubes of brass with compound lenses. This meant that they were necessarily expensive because getting the diameters of the tubes exact and fitting the hand-ground lenses required many hours of tedious labor.
For this reason, 17th century science was for wealthy amateurs and accounts for the prevalence of "sir so and so" this or "my lord that" among the lists of early scientists. Anton Van Leeuwenhoek had no title, he was plain "mynheer", Mr.
While his cloth business was successful, he had little extra cash to devote to his fascination with exploring the invisible world. Therefore, he designed his microscope not on how other microscopes were designed but rather on the simple principle that looking at the tiny world meant that it was simply necessary to focus light through a lens and for that you didn't need sliding tubes or multiple lenses. A single lens and a way to hold it and the specimen to be examined was sufficient.
Van Leeuwenhoek's microscope is an example of what Stanford bioengineering professor Manu Prakash calls "frugal science," that is, science made affordable so that having a title or well-to-do family is not a barrier to its study.
In the spirit of engineering, Prakash's lab is guided by the idea that "what any damn fool can do for a dollar, an engineer can do for a nickel."
The first products from the Prakash lab is the Foldscope, a fully functional 2000X microscope engineered from waterproof paper.
So while you can purchase a traditional 40X-1000X student microscope for about $80.00, for $300 ($3 for each microscope) you can get 100 Foldscopes plus 20 sets of accessories (magnetic couplers for recording photos and videos through a mobile device, an LED light module, pre-prepared slides, plus a Foldscope for the teacher including a case for transporting the kit.
Another necessary device for the medical lab or the classroom is a centrifuge needed to perform experiments with DNA or to diagnose diseases such as malaria, African sleeping sickness, HIV or tuberculosis.
Electrically powered centrifuges are easily obtained. Unfortunately, there are a billion humans who live and go to school in regions without infrastructure like reliable (or any) electricity.
In Prakash's lab, the question of the day was how to convert human strength power to a device that rotated.
Saad Blamha, a postdoc in the Prakash Lab, recalled his childhood fascination with spinning toys, yo-yos, spinning tops, and whirligigs.
A whirligig is simply a button with a loop of thread passing through two of the button holes. When you wind it up, and then pull on each end of the loop, the button spins; and if you pull energetically enough, you can get it to spin very rapidly. Saad wondered how fast and designed a way to use a high-speed camera to see how fast the whirligig button actually spun. He was amazed at the number: 10,000 to 15,000 rpm.
The Prakash lab has developed a highly effective centrifuge that costs less than a cup of coffee by using ordinary string, a paper disk to which capillary tubes are attached and which hold the specimen to be separated. The fully developed centrifuge is able to attain speeds of 125,000 rpm and which exert centrifugal forces of 30,000 Gs. In field tests, Prakash and his colleagues found that the centrifuge could separate a malaria parasite from blood in 15 minutes.
The engineering work on behalf of frugal science supports science for all, not only its benefits to support medicine in poor parts of the world but also access to science for all children.
The bioengineers in the Prakash Lab are able to create technology like the Foldscope that is as inexpensive as pencils and notebooks. Implementing hands on science requires instructional engineering.
Newby, Kris (2017) Inspired by a whirligig toy, Stanford bioengineers develop a 20-cent, hand-powered blood centrifuge. Stanford News. Retrieved from http://news.stanford.edu/2017/01/10/whirligig-toy-bioengineers-develop-20-cent-hand-powered-blood-centrifuge/
Manu Prakash (2012) A 50-cent microscope that folds like origami. TedTalk, June 2012 at TEDGlobal: https://www.ted.com/talks/manu_prakash_a_50_cent_microscope_that_folds_like_origami
Robert Hooke and Van Leeuwenhoek microscope pictures retrieved from http://www.history-of-the-microscope.org/history-of-the-microscope-who-invented-the-microscope.php
Images of the Paperfuge - A 20-cent Blood Centrifuge Retrieved from https://www.technologynetworks.com/diagnostics/news/paperfuge-a-20-cent-blood-centrifuge-279067
Dr. John Holton
Dr. John Holton joined the S²TEM Centers SC in July of 2013, as a research associate with an emphasis on the STEM literature including state and local STEM plans from around the nation.