It would be wonderful to identify pollen in honey and from pollen gathered by bees. You can do that with a 400x-1000x microscope for a couple of hundred dollars and some training in staining techniques. So when I heard about Foldscope – an origami microscope that fits in your pocket and costs less than 2 bucks – I was excited about the prospect of beekeepers identifying pollen in the field.
Foldscope originated out of the department of bioengineering at Stanford University. The Prakash Lab designed a low cost paper microscope that more closely resembles the original Leeuwenhoek microscope than the familiar tubular compound microscopes today.
One goal of foldscope is to provide a microscope to healthcare workers in poor countries to diagnose disease. The Prakash Lab received grants from several foundations to hand out thousands of foldscopes. I was one among thousands of beta testers from 130 different countries to request a foldscope (the beta phase is now closed) and it arrived in an envelope several weeks later.
For a good overview, watch this video of Stanford Professor Manu Prakash on this project:
The microscope is separated from a single sheet of perforated paper. It is folded into a device consisting of two parts: a handheld main stage that holds a slide and a moveable part that holds the objective lens. The moveable part can be slid up/down or left/right using your thumbs and by pushing each end of the moveable part together, the paper will bend thus raising or lowering the objective lens above the main stage – this is how you focus. There are instructions for attaching it to a cell phone camera, projecting the image onto a white surface, and for mounting an optional light module.
To appreciate what can be observed using this simple device, simply visit the Foldscope Microcosmos site. Foldscope is a wonderful tool for introducing school children to a world they previously could not see. However, my attempts to observe – much less recognize – pollen were not so successful:
- There are two lens. The low magnification lens is great for looking at insect legs and things like that but useless for pollen. I could not get the high magnification lens to render an image that was useful.
- Assembling the foldscope is not a task for a fourth grade student.
- Like all single objective microscopes, there is an inherent fuzziness due to chromatic aberration.
- A part of the problem with recognizing pollen is the ability to observe shape and surface markings. Even with a 400x, unless a specimen is prepared correctly, it can be difficult to see the necessary surface detail.
- Many of the images on the Microcosmos site are glass slides and stained by – I assume – people who know how to do it correctly. Your mileage my vary. And that is part of the problem I have with Foldscope – I can see what appears to be impressive results but have no way to know if I have a chance of realistically duplicating those results.
So sadly, I will keep looking for an easy and affordable way to identify pollen. Is your experience with Foldscope similar or different? If so, please let us know and post your results. I would love to be proven wrong about this one.