Notes from various Foldscope workshops in India

Recently, thanks to Manu and the foldscope team, Vaishnavi and I had the opportunity to conduct multiple workshops in India. I thought I’d share some of our experiences on our community page.  The idea of these workshops was to work with small groups of people and expose them to a whole range of foldscope tricks so that they become proficient, and also join the larger community.

The workshops were conducted in:

  1. Ruia College, Mumbai (7th August),  ~35 participants including college students, instructors from the NGO Pratham and Dharavi Diary, a retired school teacher and a representative from the Center for Extramural Studies. Most of the participants already had some familiarity with the foldscope. Duration ~5 hours
  2. Agastya International Foundation (AIF), Kuppam Andhra Pradesh  (11th August ). An NGO with a tremendous outreach across rural India. There were a total of ~36 participants including 25 students and several AIF instructors. Duration: ~5 hours ( 3 hours with kids and 2 additional hours with instructors)
  3. CCMB-LaCones, Hyderabad (16th August). The Laboratory for the conservation of Endangered Species, a branch of the Center for Cell and Molecular Biology. the approximately 50 participants included school children and their teachers from nearby areas (thanks WWF Hyderabad), Graduate students from CCMB and LaCones and a few faculty. ~ 3 h.
Figure 1. Pics from workshops

The total time allocated for the workshop determined what we could explore as a group. The most important constraint was the time for introduction and folding the microscope and it took about 50 minutes (with a 10-15 minute slide introduction).  This was usually followed by participants looking at prepared slides to hone their focusing skills, and then the participants made their own slides, either with paper or glass.  Other “add-ons”included the camera-lucida and PVC coverslips. In general I felt that a 4 hour workshop is the minimum time in which one can introduce a group of about 35-50 to all the foldscope tricks and spend time with each of them to improve their technique, while a basic workshop with just folding and viewing 1-2 slides requires about 2 hours.

We also had some add-ons that I thought would be useful to share for community members conducting workshops:

1.  Focus-lock. Since we just had about two magnetic couplers per person, we also took some 1/4″x1/32″ neodymium magnet discs (For specs click here) that served as the third set of magnets and were usually installed in the “back” as shown in the figure below. These automatically align if the magnetic couplers in the lens holder are affixed first. We added some tape to keep them secure. We also asked all the participants to make paper wedges (as in this post) for sliding focus.

Figure 2: Neodymium magnets in the back.
Neodymium magnets in the back.

2. Light unit. I made some 70-80 additional light units based on this design (click here).  While I soldered some of them, most of them were assembled in less than an hour’s time at a local electronics repair shop in Chennai. The great thing about this hack is that they readily stick to the neodymium magnets due to the battery and orienting the light source became a trivial exercise.

Figure 3: Light unit hacks

However, while participants had light units, our main aim was to show that ambient light or a table lamp gives equally wonderful views. In AIF, we had a great table lamp using which I captured the videos shown below. We also noticed that a tubelight on table (often seen in college labs) also gave some really good phase-contrast and dark-field views.

3. Camera lucida. In Ruia and AIF, we had camera lucida setups. Thanks to a participant in Ruia (Raamesh), we hacked this setup a bit more elegantly than I usually do to give  satisfactory views. If we had infinite time,  I would have liked participants to draw on a projection. the camera lucida setup often gets oohs and aahs and I am seriously thinking of visiting a local arts teacher and talking to her about how some of the kids can use this set up for drawing.

Figure 4. Camera Lucida

In each workshop we saw several interesting samples and I am hoping that the participants upload these (some have done so) and share with the microcosmos community. Below are three videos that we captured on our phone. All of these were taken at AIF. You can sense the excitement around the room. Good slides and live objects give that Aha moment that inspires participants.

Figure 5. Video of a Rotifer (Rotaria sp.) from a pond in Kuppam. Rotifer-18427-5-LI

Figure 6: Video of Cheek epithelial cells under Foldscope, illuminated by a desk lamp.

Figure 7: Video of Flagellates, bacteria and a Bdelloid rotifer. Flagellate-18427-7-LI, Rotifer-18427-7-LI

Big thanks to the organizers for their enthusiasm, warmth and affection and making these workshops flow smoothly: Profs. Ravi Phadke and Leena Phadke of Ruia College,  Ramji, Thiagarajan, AIF instructors (Pranavi and team), and Dr. Bhanumathi (wild-life expert and cousin), Prof. Karthikeyan Vasudevan (LaCones, Great knowledge-reservoir of Indian wildlife and conservation ) and Prof. Rakesh Mishra (CCMB), and all the participants.  Ultimately,  we made the greatest gain by making so many new friends, meeting so many talented people with diverse interests and learning about things we never knew existed in nature.

— Laks (and Vaishnavi)

6 Comments Add yours

  1. MaxCoyle says:

    Laks and Vaishnavi,

    Wow! Congratulations on such a great number of successful workshops within one trip. Your energy is contagious 🙂

    I looove the first video of the rotifer here. So much of its anatomy is clearly resolved.

    Talk soon,

  2. damontighe says:

    Laks and Vaishnavi –

    Wow that rotifer video is of amazing quality! Do you have more detail on how you shot this?
    1) What sort of slide/mount were you using? Do you have a picture of it you could post?
    2) What type of phone?
    3) What angle are you from the desk lamp? the shadowing of the subject is so nice.
    4) How do you position the phone/foldscope; are they flat on a surface or are you holding it in the air?

    Thank you for such a great post.


    1. laksiyer says:

      1. I was demonstrating the use of the PVC setup (the ditch-space slide) with the thin PVC as cover. I like this as I dont have to worry about leaks. The linked post has a picture of the slide.
      2. I have a nexus 6p. I think it is a Huawei phone. The camera is really good, but I feel that the Iphones have better features.
      3. Here is where I am a bit murky. I think I might have used the light module for this one as I dont see myself playing with dark-field and pseudophase contrast in the video. However, I always have a lot of diffuser tape to prevent the blue light. Further, the light module hack is really good. Yet as you can see from the other two videos, the illumination was really great even with the table lamp (which I am sure I used because of the df and pc). The AIF provided these desk lamps ( I actually like them more than my own table lamp and most importantly they are portable. I am planning to get an equivalent over here.
      4. In this instance I held the foldscope in the air, but my preferred position is flat on a surface with the lamp from below, which makes it easy for navigation.

  3. Pranavi says:

    Laks and Vaishnavi, it was so great to host you at our campus and to participate in this workshop! We promise to keep exploring the microworld through our scopes and to keep posting! 🙂

  4. Manu Prakash says:

    @pranavi: really valuable to have you and your students engage. This way we can all engage in scientific development if your students and bring full potential of what’s possible.

    @Laks: phenomenal work and the Kuppam rotifer is becoming famous. What a beautiful video. I sense a level of three dimensionality with a thin film of water on the slide. It’s clear anatomy to do id.


    1. laksiyer says:

      @Manu. The great rotifer expert Dr. Christian Jurasek responded to my query and identifies it as a Bdelloid Rotifer of the genus Rotaria.

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