Small Fold, Big Surprise

Last week I posted a story about Big Origami.

This week, it’s Small Origami.

Namely, an origami microscope.

Source: Foldscope Team

Source: Foldscope Team


The Foldscope website says it as concisely as I possibly could, perhaps due to their experience with efficient use of space:

“Foldscope is an origami-based print-and-fold optical microscope that can be assembled from a flat sheet of paper.

“Although it costs less than a dollar in parts, it can provide over 2,000X magnification with sub-micron resolution (800nm), weighs less than two nickels (8.8 g), is small enough to fit in a pocket (70 × 20 × 2 mm3), requires no external power, and can survive being dropped from a 3-story building or stepped on by a person.

“Its minimalistic, scalable design is inherently application-specific instead of general-purpose gearing towards applications in global health, field based citizen science and K12-science education.”

Source: Foldscope Team

Source: Foldscope Team

An invention of the Stanford University Department of Bioengineering, the body of the microscope can be printed out on card stock; add a lens, an LED light and a button battery. The Foldscope group would like to give away 10,000 microscope sets for testing. You can request your own DIY kit here, and watch the TED talk on the microscope here.

Image: Foldscope Team

Image: Foldscope Team

All that’s needed for the microscope slide is clear adhesive tape, and the device can be configured for different magnifications depending on the type of lens used.

The idea is that an inexpensive tool like this can be widely distributed to areas where a standard microscope would be inaccessible due to price or distribution. A variety  of diseases, from malaria to African sleeping sickness, could be screened using the tool. But the microscope can also be used in classrooms or for field research. And if it gets torn or broken, it is easily replaced.

Foldscope images Source: Foldscope Team

Foldscope images
Source: Foldscope Team

I never expected to be using the words ‘origami’ and ‘microscope’ to describe the same object, but there it is. Today’s pleasant surprise.


The Full Cloth


Origami elephant
Photo: Philipp Schmidli / Sipho Mabona

On World Wildlife Day, March 3, Nepal achieved a rare feat: an entire year without wildlife poaching. In the three years since 2011, the country lost a single rhino to poaching. Populations of rhinos, tigers and elephants are on the rise.

Compare this to other nations, where these animals are disappearing fast. South Africa has seen 146 rhinos already killed in 2014, over 1000 in 2013.

So, what is Nepal doing right?

Many things, apparently, because no single solution works. First, the country has a zero-tolerance approach to poachers. Get caught, go straight to jail for up to fifteen years. And there’s no long court process involved – Nepal’s forest law allows chief game wardens to pass judgement and punishment, lessening the likelihood of escape or a long, fruitless court trial.

The country also places a high priority on seeking out and capturing ring leaders. Various agencies work collaboratively to share information and find dealers and enforce anti-trafficking laws.

Tourists prepare to ride an elephant during a wildlife safari in Chitwan National Park. Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP

Tourists prepare to ride an elephant during a wildlife safari in Chitwan National Park.
Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP

Crucially, in the promotion of ecotourism, the Nepalese government not only supports programs that provide employment, it also redistributes the revenues from parks and tourism – licence fees, park entrance fees, and so on – among local communities. Half of all tourism revenues are handed back to the locals, making the animals more valuable alive rather than dead.

This achievement is all the more impressive due to Nepal’s location between China and India, two of the main regions for trafficked animal parts.

Origami elephant created by Sipho Mabona Photo by Philipp Schmidli / Mabona

Origami elephant created by Sipho Mabona
Photo by Philipp Schmidli / Mabona

Artist Sipho Mabona created an entire life-sized origami elephant out of a single piece of paper, a long project that required over a year of planning, a month of construction and many hands.

Mabona‘s elephant is a good symbol of Nepal’s achievement. This creation is no piece of easy patchwork.

Anti-poaching success is something that results from a whole cloth approach and many hands. It’s impressive, it’s inspiring, and at the same time, it’s fragile.

Time lapse film of the elephant’s construction.