Students Enrolled in UNCW MarineQuest Programs Beta Test Innovative Foldscopes

Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

Wilmington, N.C. – Kathy Ibbotson, K-12 engineering coordinator for UNCW youth programs, holds a modern marvel in hand as she introduces 20 grade-school girls to the Foldscope.

“It is a microscope made out of paper,” she explains.

Ibbotson demonstrates how the origami-style Foldscope is made out of multi-colored, perforated cardstock. At 2.5 inches wide by 7 inches long, the completed piece is thinner than a smart phone and fits neatly into her back pants pocket.

“What?” the students ask. “Does it actually work?”

Ibbotson smiles. The opportunity to introduce the potential of science and engineering to students is what brought this chemical engineer to UNCW’s MarineQuest programs.

“It does work,” she says, “and I don’t need to plug it in to use it. I can be outside; I can be anywhere.”

The Foldscope was designed by Manu Prakash, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University. Initially created as a resource for healthcare professionals and scientists working in remote locations around the globe, the lightweight microscopes, which cost only 50 cents each to manufacture, have the potential to revolutionize science education.

Thanks to an application submitted by youth programs director Sue Kezios, MarineQuest was selected for the “Ten Thousand Microscopes Project,” a beta test that distributed Foldscope kits, free of charge, to participants in 130 countries. The project is an initiative of the Prakash Lab at Stanford with support from the Moore Foundation.

“MarineQuest qualified for the beta test based on its multi-year success working with K-12 students to collect field data for the National Phytoplankton Monitoring Network,” Kezios explains. Student volunteers collect water samples at the Center for Marine Science weekly and submit them to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). During the summer, hundreds of students participate in MarineQuest programs that involve scientific exploration.

The girls in Ibbotson’s engineering leadership camp are the university’s first Foldscope beta testers of the summer. To begin the project, they peer through standard biology lab microscopes at phytoplankton in droplets of water on a slide. Next, they use the Foldscopes to study slides using water droplets from the same source. The paper microscopes come with an adjustable lens that magnifies objects 10-100 times.

“This is so cool,” says Micaela, age 11. “All of these microscopes can be put together and, with just a drop of water, you can use them to see things. That’s amazing.”

Kezios and Ibbotson agree that the Foldscope’s affordability and functionality is amazing, and they welcome the opportunity to introduce tomorrow’s scientists and engineers to such innovative tools.

“When you come to MarineQuest, you are going to do science. All of our camps also have a service component,” Kezios says. “With this project, we’re putting scientific equipment into students’ hands and having them monitor the health of their community.”