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In my post yesterday, I referred to how there’s a strand of justice running through art and design. That’s demonstrated pretty effectively in the work of Dr. Manu Prakash. A Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford University, he has become well known as the inventor of the ‘foldscope’ and the ‘paperfuge’. These are ultra-low-cost microscopes and centrifuges, designed for use in tackling medical emergencies in poorer communities around the world.

They’re made out of paper.

Paper.

There’s something about this that inspires the young MacGyver fan in me. The idea that you can make a working, medical microscope out of paper, a microscope that effectively costs 50 cents to produce, is revolutionary. It’s taking an ancient art form, origami, wedding it to engineering, and getting it out into a world where almost half a million people die every year from malaria.

No – where half a million people die because they don’t have adequate medical facilities or a reliable electricity supply.

Then there’s the paperfuge. At 20 cents it’s a bit cheaper than the foldscope. This uses paper and other simple parts to create a working centrifuge that doesn’t require electricity. Centrifuges are expensive pieces of kit, but they’re essential in analysing blood and identifying pathogens. Again, the paperfuge is inspired by toys and origami, but is a working tool that can save lives in off-the-grid communities with no infrastructure. Prakash calls this “Frugal Science”. I call it “awesome”.

It’s not just about medicine though. It’s about accessibility. It’s about inspiration. It’s about art and science intersecting in such a way that provides more equitable access to resources and ideas and, as a result, allowing people from all backgrounds to interact with the issues facing their communities and identifying workable solutions. It’s about creating young scientists and supporting old doctors. It’s about origami. It’s about justice. It’s about hope.

One thought on “Origami Can Save Your Life: The Work of Dr. Manu Prakash

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