Frugal Science: Improving Health Across the Globe

Troy Brown, RN


June 15, 2017

In This Article

Making Laboratory Technology Affordable Worldwide

Researchers from Stanford University in California are using frugal science to improve health in resource-poor settings.

Manu Prakash, PhD, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, and his colleagues from Prakash Lab have invented several inexpensive medical tools that they hope will make laboratory technology more accessible to millions of people in developing countries.[1]

Figure 1. Dr Prakash holding the Foldscope.
Photo by Jim Cybulski Image courtesy of Stanford Frugal Science

Laboratory technology, including microscopes and centrifuges, is critical to diagnosing and preventing diseases, but is largely inaccessible to people in these areas because it is costly; often needs a power source (such as electricity) that may not be available; and, once broken, may be too expensive to repair.

The researchers looked to low-tech children's toys, including a 1000-year-old whirligig, tops, yo-yos, and an old-fashioned music box, for inspiration.

Dr Prakash has received a number of awards and grants (including a $625,000 MacArthur "genius grant" in 2016) to spend as he wishes on scientific research over 5 years.[2]

He and his colleagues are also using crowdsourcing—"the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers"[3]—in various ways to maximize the potential of their inventions.


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