Small microscope making a big difference

  • Ivrige barn tester ut foldskopet.
    Photo
    Sheri Bastien

With a small, foldable microscope, Sheri Bastien has managed to get children and young people in poor countries interested in how bacteria and viruses spread, and in recognising the importance of washing their hands. That can potentially save a lot of lives.

Small microscope making a big difference

For several years, Sheri Bastien, a social researcher at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), has worked on developing strategies to improve sanitation and hygiene. Engaging with the local community, and with children and young people in particular, is a must to achieve this. Through Project SHINE, she has worked with local communities to come up with good, affordable innovations to prevent people getting sick. One of the innovations that the project has developed and put into use is this little foldscope – a mini-microscope that anyone can set up and use to gain a greater understanding of the microscopic life. The life we cannot see.

This mini-microscope enables us to see and better understand microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria.

This mini-microscope enables us to see and better understand microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria.

Photo
Sheri Bastien

Engagement is spreading

‘Introducing the foldscope to children and young people will increase their understanding of how bacteria and viruses spread. Young people can collect samples and get answers to their questions. The foldscope thereby helps to make science accessible and is a useful supplement to textbooks. It fosters curiosity and demonstrates that you don’t need expensive equipment to become a scientist,’ says Sheri Bastien. The foldscope was developed by her colleagues at the University of Stanford.

A smartphone is placed on top of the foldscope to magnify and take a photo of the object under the microscope. Photos, lessons learned and questions can be uploaded to a website and shared with others.

Sheri Bastien introducing the foldscope to children in a small Caribbean village.

Sheri Bastien introducing the foldscope to children in a small Caribbean village.

Photo
Privat

More than one million people in more than 150 countries have started using the foldscope. Communities in Madagascar, Cape Verde, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Caribbean islands, Mexico and India are among those who have been given foldscopes and who share photos and questions on this website. That way, communities and countries exchange experience across borders. Sheri Bastien is now involved in the planning of a large-scale project in Myanmar, where the foldscope will be used to help prevent dengue fever. The project is financed by the Research Council of Norway.

A flat-packed foldscope.

A flat-packed foldscope.

Photo
Sheri Bastien

Cheap to make

The foldscope is made of paper, which means it is cheap to produce and easy to carry around. Normally, expensive equipment is needed to study the microscopic world and it therefore takes place in a lab. But the foldscope is by no means a poor substitute. The optic quality is on a par with a research microscope.

Main cause of disease and death

‘Diarrhoea is one of the main causes of death in poor countries, with children being disproportionately affected,’ says Sheri Bastien. The reasons are poor sanitary conditions and a lack of handwashing.

‘Using a foldscope to understand the benefits of handwashing is a great exercise in times like these. Clean hands save lives,’ says Bastien.

The project has led more people to recognise the importance of using toilets or latrines, and of washing their hands after using the toilet and before meals. Project Shine spreads information about the importance of access to clean water, better sanitary conditions and personal hygiene. Young people will be the next generation of scientists who will have to deal with global challenges like the coronavirus.

‘The foldscope should be as natural for children and young people to carry around in their bags as a pencil,’ says Bastien.

Low-cost innovations

Project SHINE (Sanitation & Hygiene Innovation in Education) is led by Sheri Bastien. It is a collaboration between NMBU, the University of Calgary, the Catholic University of Health, Allied Sciences in Tanzania and the Masai people of Ngorongoro in Tanzania. The goal of the project is to work with youth and communities to empower them to find simple, low-cost, low-tech ways to improve sanitation and hygiene, which in turn will reduce the prevalence of diarrhoea, one of the number one causes of death in poor countries.

The Masai people of Tanzania using the mini-microscope.

The Masai people of Tanzania using the mini-microscope.

Photo
Sheri Bastien

Among other things, the project has led to the introduction of a biosand filter for drinking water purification, and the establishment of a women’s soap manufacturing enterprise in Tanzania.

Two research fellows are currently affiliated to the project.

 

Published 12. May 2020 - 10:53 - Updated 12. May 2020 - 10:53