A $1 Microscope And Other Bits And Parts Lying Around

TJ McCue
TJ McCue
Mar 2 · 4 min read

The conversation started with this question: What is the best microscope you can build for under $1 in parts? That’s what the inventors, Manu Prakash and Jim Cybulski, thought as they worked on a paper microscope known as the Foldscope. They set out to give people a super-affordable way to examine the world around them, the materials under their feet or in their hands.

Foldscope — inexpensive paper microscope

Every day, I come across what I consider wildly amazing stories in STEM, STEAM, Education (via the excellent educators I follow), 3D Printing aka Additive Manufacturing (AM), Materials Science, in maker communities, and among startups leveraging these various innovations.

Up until now, I mostly share them in tight circles for various clients or projects or publications. Sometimes it seems that I am not sharing these finds, these gems, widely enough. I plan to change that with a new Medium publication, but I have not figured out a title yet that will cover the range of topics I research and study.

A couple of years ago, I helped launch and continue to run a small, niche publication called AM News, under a National Science Foundation grant project known as the Technician Education in Additive Manufacturing & Materials (TEAMM). With the focus on technician education, I am often in cool and deep conversations with professors and experts from two-year and four-year colleges and universities about the newest and most innovative ways to educate a wide range of ages from high school to workforce education programs.

As some of my readers here know, I am active with large companies and brands, particularly where they touch education. I have put pen to paper for a number of publications you know as well, from the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Make magazine, and currently Forbes in their Innovation and Consumer Tech section.

I spent almost a full year on the road for a large national project known as 3DRV where I traveled the USA researching and reporting on 3D printing and 3D scanning. All that said, I am passionate about this space and care deeply about how we educate our young people to keep them ready for the future of work. I’ve been working for years to sort out how to fuse these two disparate entities and I think I have found a way.

3DRV was a national roadtrip done by TJ McCue, sponsored by Autodesk, HP, Nvidia, Faro, Jayco, and others.
3DRV was a national roadtrip done by TJ McCue, sponsored by Autodesk, HP, Nvidia, Faro, Jayco, and others.
3DRV National Roadtrip

That way is rather simple — just do it, as the famous sneaker people like to say. I kept thinking that I could not combine these two areas, that they differ too much. But enough of that personal limitation. Onward. I don’t fully know what this chapter will look like, but I’m moving forward (and probably backwards and sideways, too). I hope you’ll join me. I’ll have a newsletter option to capture and publish most of it, but also here.

Every year, there are conferences and events that capture our attention and time. I stopped traveling for events, but plan to add a few back into my schedule. Depending on your specialties, you may visit an event focused on Materials Science, STEM Education, or 3D Printing, to name just a few that are of interest to readers here.

On the educator front, TEAMM was part of the annual M-STEM event held last year at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. The event is sponsored by the National Science Foundation as part of an Advanced Technological Education (ATE) with MatEdU, its sister organization at Edmonds Community College.

At the 2019 M-STEM event, two graduate students presented (and won) an award for their work at Tennessee Tech University building a mobile 3D printer. It can work with a variety of materials from cake frosting (you read that right) to cement to paint. You can check out the YouTube video here. Somerset Community College is doing some amazing 3D printing work as well converting $450 polymer (FFF) machines into a metal 3D printer. These are just a couple of examples.

If you have not visited MatEdU before, it is a clearinghouse of teaching materials including labs, hands-on demonstrations, modules and papers, which can easily be integrated into a variety of courses, class-room settings, and industry.

Finally, an event to mark on your calendars for April 20–23, 2020 is one of the best-known conferences for AM (celebrating its 30th Year): RAPID + TCT, the largest 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing event in North America.

I’ll be attending this year’s event in Anaheim, California and will be reporting back to you on some of the recent advances in Medical Additive Manufacturing (AM), and new AM Startups (this section is not published yet) shaking up the already fast-moving world of 3D printing.

Oh, and those $1 microscopes? At the end of 2019, Foldscope has one million in the wild helping children and adults become passionate about learning, enthusiastic about figuring out how to look closer at the world around us, to become lifelong citizen scientists. To me, that’s a good way to spend one’s time and attention.

May your week be filled with making things with your own hands and all the good materials you can beg, borrow, find, or buy.


NOTE: The Foldscope is made up of common, easy to get and affordable materials, however on their website a deluxe microscope sells for around $30 for one unit. I presume this is partly to fund other parts of the initiative. They sell a classroom kit of $20 that works out to a bit over $1.75 per unit. Still a deal.

TJ McCue

Written by

TJ McCue

I write about tech, 3D, hardware, software for Forbes and others. http://Instagram.com/TJ_McCue or http://RefineDigital.com

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