A team of engineers now describe an ultra-low-cost origami-based approach for large-scale manufacturing of microscopes, specifically demonstrating brightfield, darkfield, and fluorescence microscopes. Merging principles of optical design with origami enables high-volume fabrication of microscopes from 2D media. Flexure mechanisms created via folding enable a flat compact design. Structural loops in folded paper provide kinematic constraints as a means for passive self-alignment. This light, rugged instrument can survive harsh field conditions while providing a diversity of imaging capabilities, thus serving wide-ranging applications for cost-effective, portable microscopes in science and education.
Microscopes are ubiquitous tools in science, providing an essential, visual connection between the familiar macro-world and the remarkable underlying micro-world. Since the invention of the microscope, the field has evolved to provide numerous imaging modalities with resolution approaching 250 nm and smaller . However, some applications demand non-conventional solutions due to contextual challenges and tradeoffs between cost and performance. For example, in situ examination of specimens in the field provides important opportunities for ecological studies, biological research, and medical screening. Further, ultra-low cost DIY microscopes provide means for hands-on science education in schools and universities. Finally, this platform could empower a worldwide community of amateur microscopists to capture and share images of a broad range of specimens.