Field notes from Madagascar – part 1 

In this series of documents; I will share travel notes from recent foldscope workshops in Madagascar. 

I am on my long journey back home from Madagascar. It takes almost 35 hours to get back home – not even counting the long road journey of 12 hours to get to the field station from the capital Tana. I am filled with hope, extreme excitement, and a sense of burden – all at the same time. I went looking for a island; and I found a continent. The light in people’s heart (always smiling – ready for a challenge) and the darkness of burden of infectious diseases provides a contrast I have never seen before. 

On one side I watched almost al of the country in flames; with slash and burn farming practice. Forests burned to the ground. On the other hand – I found myself in lush green rainforests where I could not see the sky because the forest cover was so dense, moths so big I had to rub my eyes to believe what I saw was real. It’s such a surreal experience; that I am left with a feeling of awe for the magnitude of life on our planet. Contrast like I have never seen before. 

The PrakashLab team (a team of 6 people including myself, Saad, Deepak, Felix, Hari and Jim) was in surrounding areas of Ranamafona national park. We engaged with phenomenal team from Center Val Bio, PiVOT and Mark Krasnow lab (Stanford). I will describe what we are planning to do on a large scale in a later post; this is just a starter to share some of the context of the foldscope work we did in Madagascar. 

In collaboration with Mark Krasnow lab; we ran two day foldscope workshop in secondary school in Ranamafona. We have some big plans of foldscope deployment in Madagascar – and the school in Kelalina (spellcheck) will act as a staging ground for our work across Madagascar. 

I was absolutely blown away by the creativity, tenacity and the hunger of knowledge in these students. I have been running foldscope workshops around the world for several years. I have never seen such an incredible group of students; who absorbed the conceptual ideas in microscopy at a level of detail that these students did. No doubt, this was indeed the most successful foldscope workshop I have ever run. 

We also worked with teachers in training; and used them to provide a long term support for these students. Our teacher to student ratio was 1:3 although we trained 100+ students. And we got a lot of bystanding kids join the workshops as well. 

Here is a little Picture blog to get you all excited. Detailed day by day accounts will follow soo.  One practice I tried this workshop was for students to draw what they see (majority students don’t have cellphones; many of them also don’t have shoes). I am amazed with the beauty of detailed observations made by them. These are original observations done at home with no direct guidance from us. And it’s absolutely remarkable!!! 



Sometimes a moth as large as a foldscope would land on the microscope. Samples abound. 

A student with most samples examined – 10 in one day. All the vegetables she could find in the market. 

An incredibly detailed drawing of an insect leg. Remember – they are looking through the microscope for the first time. 

Burst of excitement for natural history. This stag beetle provided a lot of inspiration with students turning from afraid to “thrilled”. 

Natural history crown – a swallow tail moth makes its presence felt in the classroom. Pay close attention to its tail!! 

One of the most detailed observation of a “head lice” with all the details of the body parts assigned. This to me was the single most observation with such depth and Beauty. The red is student blood being digested by the live lice!! Isn’t science great. 

I will add more pictures to this photo essay soon. 


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Pranavi says:

    Wow, this is incredible! We have the same problem with our children and teachers in India- they do not have mobile phones with great cameras (or shoes for that matter). I have been thinking about how to use the scopes without cameras, and drawing observations seems like a great idea! We will try this in our next session.

  2. laksiyer says:

    @Manu these are just fantastic. mahafinaritra sary. I love the idea of using ruled pages for drawing and the drawing are exquisite. What fantastic moths and beetles. Did school kids carry beetles in their pockets and pencil boxes like we did? I noticed that in Malagasy Vitsika is the word used for ants. Vrischika is the word for scorpion in sanskrit. I am actually inspired to look at the Malagasy lexicon, is there an sanskrit connection somewhere? Even the word for wonderful (mahafinaritra,–why maha?) shows some kind of fusion with a sanskrit component.
    Cant wait to see more observations from Madagascar.

  3. Manu Prakash says:

    Quick responses:
    1) love the connection you brought about between the lexicon. Madagacar is a cultural hotspot mystery. It’s got people all the way from Indonesia and India and Middle East; all kinds of people coming and calling it home. So how the local language developed – had influence from many other languages. It would be phenomenal if you could find direct Sanskrit connections.
    2) it was the land of extreme; I so wished you could have been able to come with me. It’s a perfect place to actually be in the field – with the family as well. More on that soon.


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