Links We Like: $1 Microscopy, Open Source Lab Equipment, and a History of Bioluminescent Organisms

Mountains of Foldscopes! Photo via

Mountains of Foldscopes! Photo via foldscope.com

This week’s links are all about different aspects of science. From empowering kids with inexpensive microscopes to building open source lab equipment and tracing the history of human interactions with bioluminescent animals.

Foldscope: an inexpensive paper-based microscope

It's amazing what you can see with a $1 microscope! Photo via foldscope.com

It’s amazing what you can see with a $1 microscope! Photo via foldscope.com

The Microcosmos community is an exciting look at what happens when you give kids an inexpensive microscope and let them explore.

The community is an outgrowth of the Foldscope project, whose goal is to provide every child with their own microscope. These aren’t your average microscopes, though. They are made of paper, a ball lens, ingenious origami folding, and cost less than $1 USD to make in 1,000 unit volume.

The design comes from a team of researchers at the Stanford University Prakash Lab. According to their calculations, Foldscope is able to offer “2,000X magnification with sub-micron resolution (800nm).”* Not too shabby for a device that costs less than a dollar. While you cannot currently purchase a Foldscope, the instructions and bill of materials are available from a rather dense research paper.

The PLOS Open Source Hardware Toolkit

Solution agitator/shaker made from an old CD-ROM drive. Photo by pellinglab.ne

Solution agitator/shaker made from an old CD-ROM drive. Photo by pellinglab.net

Good lists on the internet can be hard to come by. Too often they look good at first, but wind up being clickbait. Not so with the curated list of Open Source Hardware tools from the Public Library of Science (PLOS).

Each entry provides instructions or academic articles about open source lab equipment that you can build. Everything from re-purposing a CD-ROM drive into a agitator/shaker used to mix and prepare chemical solutions to the more ambitious article covering how to 3D printing your own lab equipment. This is a sizable repository of resources which should help you get your own open source lab up and running.

The Secret History of Bioluminescent Oraganisms

Osamu Shimomura with vials of bioluminescence organisms. Photo by */Kyodo/Newscom

Osamu Shimomura with vials of bioluminescence organisms. Photo via hakaimagazine.com

If you’ve ever seen flyflies illuminating a dusk sky, then you’ve witnessed a bioluminescent organism. Hai Nei Shih Chou Chi, a text that dates to as early as the fourth or fifth century BCE documents one of the first human encounters with bioluminescence. More recently, military forces in WWII studied aquatic light emitting creatures to help locate stealthy submarines and estimate torpedo trajectories.*

Ferris Jabr chronicles a number of these historical encounters in The Secret History of Bioluminescence and gives close attention to the research scientist, Osamu Shimomura, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008.

It’s interesting to learn that we’ve only recently begun to study and understand bioluminescent animals, and much of our understanding is from Shimomura’s research.


Have a great weekend, make sure to share any interesting links you find with us in the forums.

If you’re attending Maker Faire Bay Area this weekend, stop by our booth in Expo Hall and come try out PocketC.H.I.P.!”

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