A tweet from the Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, K VijayRaghvan, on how to provide foldscope, a low-cost paper microscope to colleges, has led to India signing a 'Letter of Intent' (LoI) with Stanford University to provide the apparatus to Indian students.
The 'Letter of Intent' was signed between the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of the Science and Technology Ministry and Prakash Labs, a research group at Stanford University, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the United States last month.
It all started with a tweet from Prof. VijayRaghavan to Manu Prakash of Prakash Lab on August 12. "Hi, can we discuss using Foldscope widely in India? I am at the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India," VijayRaghvan tweeted.
Prakash, who is an Assistant Professor at Stanford University, responded to the tweet immediately, welcoming it. A skype call followed to take the matter forward.
The Prime Minister's Office also responded positively to the move.
Foldscope is provided as a kit where a student starts by first building the actual unit from the kit; and can explores questions surrounding the microscopic world in physics, chemistry and biology. The users build an online community and share insights, projects, questions and scientific discoveries with the community at foldscope online platform.
It will be used as an educational and training tool to understand physics, chemistry, biology and instrumentation. The DBT will ensure that foldscopes are provided to students of its Star College Scheme, some 80 of them across the country. This will be done in phases based on the availability of foldscope.
"Our vision is to bring a microscope into the hands of every single kid in the world," Prakash said.
Workshops and training programmes will be run by Prakash Lab in collaboration with Indian institutions. The nascent foldscope community in India will be involved in training. After this initial pilot programme, collaboration with Prakash Lab will be expanded to setting up of joint research for explorations of other low cost instrumentation in colleges.
"Partnering with Prakash Lab's foldscope is an exciting new adventure for the Department of Biotechnology. It is 'Citizen Science' at its best. The foldscope is torchlight in the hands of human curiosity that allows each and every one of us to explore our planet at the microscopic level, just as the telescope allows us to explore the stars.
"The beauty we see and the science underneath it will create a new generation of young scientists in India," said VijayRaghavan.