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Microscopy for all: DBT brings Foldscope to underprivileged children

Rapid Fire

  • 525 applications received from 112 schools, 357 colleges, and 56 citizen scientists for
    using foldscope to trigger scientific excitement
  • Preference given to government schools & colleges in resource constrained
    environments
  • Selected applicants twinned with the North Eastern region of India for exchange of idea

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology in partnership with Foldscope Instruments Inc. and Prakash Lab (Stanford) reached out to school students, teachers, scientists & citizen-scientists from across India to support use of origami paper Foldscope to popularize science and trigger excitement in it.DISuT2CVwAE8GTo

School students and teachers from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and from North Eastern states of India participated in interactive workshops at Mumbai on August 28 and 29 where they were exposed to the wonders of science through the low-cost origami microscope developed by Dr Manu Prakash, a winner of MacArthur Foundation award from Stanford University.

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India and Prakash Lab at Stanford University, USA had earlier signed an agreement in September 2015 to bring the Foldscope developed by Dr Manu Prakash working at Stanford University to India to encourage curiosity in science. Following an understanding between DBT and Prakash Lab, Foldscopes have been distributed to several college students and a series of workshops in December 2015 held across India to popularize the origami paper microscope.

Dr K VijayRaghavan
Dr K VijayRaghavan & Dr Manu Prakash interacting with students at the workshop at Dharavi, Mumbai

The workshops at Dharavi, and the Urdu municipality school in Mumbai, some of the most resource constraint settings in a metro-megacity, highlighted the enthusiasm that exploration of the microscopic world of science through Foldscope could trigger, particularly among the under-privileged children.

“Finally got an opportunity to work with the changemakers, incredible soldiers of social transformation at Dharavi, hats off to the kids,” said Dr Manu Prakash.

Interacting with the students, DBT Secretary, Dr K VijayRaghavan said “The microscopic world is a fantastic and mysterious one, so close to us and yet hidden. The genius and infectious enthusiasm of Manu Prakash allows his Foldscope to be used by each one of us to explore this world” he pointed out.

Young girls attending Foldscope workshop at the Municipality school in Mumbai

Shabana Khatoon Sheikh, a class eight student with no science subjects at her Sangharsh Nagar Urdu School and no exposure to microscope, rapidly assembled the paper microscope. She was eager to have a peek into the mysteries of science. “Bara bara dikh raha hai (things are looking large),” she exclaimed. Workshops were also organized at a Bombay Municipal Corporation School and at IIT Mumbai. In December 2015, workshops had been organized in several colleges in Delhi and Guwahati.

The Department of Biotechnology launched an initiative to distribute the Foldscope to teachers, scientists & citizen scientists in project mode. Proposals were invited this year from across India for the use of Foldscope to improve understanding of scientific subjects.

Till May 31, which was the last date for submission of proposals, a total of 525 applications have been received from schools, colleges and citizen-scientists across India for this grant competition, which offers Foldscopes and a micro grant to use the origami paper microscope to promote the spirit of exploration in scientific subjects.

Among these applications 112 were from schools, 357 from colleges and 56 from individual scientists.

Students using the Foldscope as a workshop in Delhi

The selected applicants twinned with the North East region of India for exchange of ideas and students under the programme. All proposed activities of the successful proposals are mirrored in a school or college of the North East; likewise all successful proposals from NE mirror activities in school or colleges from rest of India.
The grant can have a major impact in democratizing science through a Major Twinning Programme of the North East with other parts of India. Through this micro grant, low-cost paper Foldscopes can reach remote corners of India and help popularize science there.

Mirroring the activities of the successful proposals in the North East through twinning programme assumes significance as the North East of India is a biodiversity hotspot. Scientists and students there can provide interesting scientific inputs while enjoying the chance to explore the world of micro-organisms with a microscope that they can take anywhere.

DBT looks forward to hold more workshops and distribute the 84000 Foldscopes to the most resource constraint schools and colleges of India. Eventually, in a couple of years, every student will carry a Foldscope geometry box as part of the school kit.