Monday, March 17, 2014

Origami Microscope for Just 50 Cents

My most recent post for Makezine. I really want to get my hands on these!

Easy to use, with no external power needed, the Foldscope magnifies up to 2,000 times. Image courtesy the Foldscape Team.

Stanford bioengineering professor Manu Prakash, PhD is on a mission. He wants to make it easy for field researchers to identify and diagnose dangerous microbial diseases like malaria, African sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis, Chagas and more.

To do that, he and his team have created the Foldscope — an inexpensive, disposable paper microscope that uses tiny spherical lenses. In addition to a low price point of 50 cents, the Foldscope is remarkably durable, waterproof and adaptable, weighs just under 9 grams, can be built in minutes, requires no external power and, since it travels as a flat, printed sheet, takes up very little space. It has the potential to be a game-changing tool in the world of medicine and microscopy.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Super Secret Science Challenge SIX: Sleds

Can you design two sleds -- one fast and one slow -- to deliver our Secret Agents to the lair of the evil Mr. Fluffly? You'll need to balance the effects of gravity and friction to make your design work. Join in the engineering fun with this installment of the Super Secret Science Challenge!

This week's suggested supplies:

  • 2 cardboard or plastic trays
  • 2 drinking straws
  • 2 bamboo skewers
  • 2 pencil
  • 2 pipe cleaners
  • 4 binder clips
  • 4 paperclips
  • 1 piece of copy paper
  • 1 piece of wax paper
  • 1 piece of plastic sheeting
  • 1 piece of cotton fabric
  • 4 old AA or AAA batteries
  • Assorted tapes -- invisible, masking, duct, packing, etc. 
  • A small toy to act as the pilot
  • A wood plank, plastic rain gutter, or other material to act as the track
For this week's challenge, students will need to play with the balance between the force of gravity (and weight) on the sled and the friction between the sled and the track. The position of the pilot and any ballast (like the batteries or binder clips) can make for a great discussion about the center of gravity. 

Meanwhile, the decision between using a flat bottomed design, versus one with runners leads to an excellent discussion about how friction works. (The more contact, the more friction.) Additionally, the materials selected for the bottom of the sled (or even for a parachute behind it) can greatly affect how fast the sled moves on the track.

You can use anything you want as a track, but make sure the starting point and end point are clearly defined. The angle of the track will greatly affect the way the sleds run, as will any curves or bends. This can be fun for experimentation.

Good luck agents!

Super Secret Science Challenge FIVE: Parachutes

This week we have new heroes on our side: The B Team. They need to parachute into enemy territory and bug Mr. Fluffy's Lair! Are you the right Science Officer for the challenge? Let's find out, with this week's Super Secret Science Challenge!

Today's list of suggested supplies are:

  • 1 yard of string
  • 1 plastic shopping bag
  • 1 sheet of newspaper
  • 3 sheets of copy paper
  • 1 lunch bag
  • 5 coffee filters
  • 1 8.5x11” piece of aluminum foil
  • A small paper cup
  • 8 paper clips, assorted
  • 1 pipe cleaner
  • Various tapes -- invisible, masking, duct, etc.
  • A small toy as the pilot
To make this challenge even more fun, give your scientist two goals: create a parachute with the longest hang time possible and try to land right on a target. I drop my parachutes from a height of 2 meters (roughly the height of a door frame) with the feet of the "B Team" member as the bottom of the unit. Encourage students to create more than a single parachute for the challenge, as it can be tough to meet both objectives with one or, allow students to move the target to where they predict the parachute will land.

A parachute is a fairly simple creation. It's primarily composed of a canopy made of some type of material, which creates lift (and drag) through the frictional force of air resistance. The parachute is connected to the pilot, who is held in a harness, by lines that connect to the canopy. The pilot is pulled by gravity towards the ground.

Good luck Agents! Hope you have fun making your creations!

Adult Eye Cells Survive the Printing Process

I think this is just the coolest biotech process I've seen recently!


Using a piezoelectric printhead, researchers at the University of Cambridge were able to print cells from an adult animal’s central nervous system, forming layers of two types of cells taken from the retinas of rats. Though the scientists were concerned that the delicate cells would not survive, they found that viability was not affected and that there were no significant differences between cultures of printed and traditionally prepared cells. Read more...

Flying Robotic Jellyfish Take to the Sky

This is a neat robot I posted about at MAKE...

Leif Ristroph and Stephen Childress from New York University have just released work with a new robotic ornithopter with a biomechanical design based not on traditional insects or birds, but rather on the aquatic jellyfish. As a result the researchers say they’ve solved stability problems that have plagued other machines. Read more...

Best Paper Plane Ever Uses Only Manilla Folders and Glue

Loved writing this one up for MAKE!


It took five years, a lot of manilla folders and glue, and tremendous patience, but designer Luca Iaconi-Stewart finally completed his 1:60-scale replica of a 777 jetliner. The model, complete with miniature seats, engine, doors and even retractable landing gear, is almost as complicated as the real thing. Read more...

Open Source EMG Biosensor Coming to a Muscle Near You

Another post by me on Makezine...

Until now, EMG equipment has been expensive and complicated. FlexVolt is hoping to make the technology accessible to anyone for under $100. Read more...

I'm planning to use this or a similar device to do EMG experiments with this summer's Maker Camp!

Google Makes Lego Even Cooler

A recent Makezine post by yours truly...

The MAKE logo in LEGO

A partnership between Google and Lego has ushered in a new age of virtual block-play: Build with Chrome. Read more...