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DBT partners PrakashLab to spread microscope access

Rapid Fire

  • PrakashLab partner with DBT and its Star College programme.
  • Students in identified colleges starting with those under ‘Star College’ scheme will receive the Foldscope.
  • Students will join in Foldscope’s user-camps

Undergraduate students in all parts of the country will soon be able to take a peek at the world of microscopic organisms with a microscopethat they can take anywhere, following an initiative by the Department of Biotechnology to reach a PrakashLab’s low cost paper folding-microscope, the Foldscope (url) to them.

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The ‘Foldscope’ has been developed by Dr Manu Prakash, an Indian-origin Assistant Professor at Stanford University. (URL)

The letter of intent exchanged between the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the PrakashLab in the presence of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to distribute Foldscope through DBT’s star college and other programmes was a unique demonstration of how the government is was using the social media in novel ways to stimulate citizen science.

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It all started with a tweet from Secretary, Department of Biotechnology Professor K VijayRaghavan to Dr Prakash on August 12 this year.

‘Hi, can we discuss using Foldscope widely in India? I am at the Dept of Biotech, Govt of India’.

Dr Prakash responded immediately welcoming it. A skype call followed subsequently. Prime Minister’s office also responded enthusiastically to the call requesting for his support.

Rapid communication through the social media played a crucial role quickly paving the pathway for the letter of intent to spread the low technology widely through DBT’s network.

Dr Prakash is excited about engaging through DBT to extend further the Foldscope’s reach to all parts of India. He said, “Our vision is to bring a microscope into the hands of every single kid in the world”.

It is a wonderful example of how small moves to connect with the world can translate already generated knowledge to our people.

“Partnering with PrakashLab’s Foldscope is an exciting new adventure for the Department of Biotechnology. It is Citizen Science at its best. The Foldscope is torchlight in the hands of human curiosity that allows each and every one of us to explore our planet at the microscopic level, just as the telescope allows us to explore the stars. The beauty we see and the science underneath it will create a new generation of young scientists in India. We look forward to taking this wonderful partnership ahead” said Professor VijayRaghavan.

PrakashLab, a research group at Stanford University working in the field of engineering and physical biology, will source Foldscope to DBT and its constituents.

The DBT will ensure that the Foldscope is provided to students of the Star College scheme in each identified college. This will be done progressively and staged based on the availability of Foldscope.

Foldscope will be used as an educational and training tool to understand physics, chemistry, biology and instrumentation.

Foldscope is provided as a kit where the student starts by first building the actual unit from the kit; and explores curiosity driven questions surrounding the microscopic world in physics, chemistry and biology. The users build an online community and share insights, projects, questions and scientific discoveries with the community at Foldscope online platform.

Workshops and training programmes will be run by PrakashLab in collaboration with Indian institutions. The nascent Local Foldscope community based in India will also be involved in training.

After this initial pilot program, the collaboration with PrakashLab will be expanded to setting up of joint research for explorations of other low cost instrumentation in colleges as deemed mutually appropriate.

This was a case of matching of views that focused to create a spark. The Prime Minister has been stressing on using Indian experts abroad to bring benefits to India. PrakashLab with its vision of democratizing science develops low cost scientific tools that can scale up to match problems in global health and science education. Further connecting PrakashLabs to India can create magic through science driven by the young.