How using soap can change the world – but it’s not easy..

In continuation of a puzzle of the tattoo skin that was just posted a few minutes ago; I want to share the adventure for the rest of us who do not have a tattoo (as yet – after seeing them under a Foldscope, I am tempted). But I will wait..

Onto thinking more about the puzzle of “How to put a human under a foldscope” – I want to drop a hint here. Microchips and humans have something in common – they are both …. So here is a link to a past post on how to convert your foldscope into a reflected light microscope.

Now, while we are in this introspection mode, looking at our own self – I want to remind you something. The biggest challenge that we face working in developing countries is lack of sanitation and the toll this has on human populations. Are you ready to hear this – more than 1.5 million people die every year from diarrheal illness. Yes, 1.5 Million. And a significant portion is young kids. Now the irony of this situation is, a simple solution has existed for millennia – a bar of soap. The challenge is how to get communities to use it well.

Data from the links below:

The most common method used in campaigns for community awareness is writing songs, making banners, posters, ads on TV and so forth. It makes some impact, but something critical is missing.. this is a problem harder than you might imagine. If a community does not believe or understand germ theory to begin with, how can you expect a consistent behavioral change to take place by just using informational cues. What we need are experiential cues; having actually seeing a micro-organism might help. I say this more tentatively, since this has not ever been tested. Thus we have decided to test this idea with our collaborators at University of Calgary and Dr. Sheri.

What’s difficult about this is problem perception. When you try telling a 5 year old to wash his hands of germs he/she has never seen, hypothetical life forms that exist that are present on his hand – although he can’t see them. The usual answer you get from a 5 year old is – mom, my hands are clean. We travel around the world, and we know this for a fact that germ theory is not something everybody believes in all corners of the world. It’s something that needs to be taught in all it’s glory for the very beginning. That;s what we have been trying to do.. one example of this is the SHINE project, which brings sanitation and hygiene into the hands of kids. We explored the use of foldscope in quantifiable behavioral changes in kids hand washing habits once they had seen the microscopic life forms. Dr. Sheri (our collaborator) will write a broader post on the same; but here is a glimpse of that work in action:

On to some action. In this post; I want to teach you how to actually image the surface of your own hand – to watch all the things that are hiding under your nails and living on your skin. It’s an incredible world. I am going to use my hand as an example. We have two options; either light needs to pass through an object or you need to have light reflect from the surface for it to be visible. We will use both. For this exercise, I removed the back illumination module for the foldscope, and just use a table lamp as an illumination source. Now, some amount of light does pass through your fingers (that’s why they look red when you cover up a light source with your hands).


Here is the first video of what you would see if you remove the light module, put your foldscope on your finger (attached with your cellphone camera) and bring your hand close to a light source.

And if you are not too scared; next post I will be sharing a Foldscope video of a healing wound (from a poison oak rash that I got recently – that’s for another foldscope post some day, it brings too much pain).

keep exploring

3 Comments Add yours

  1. laksiyer says:

    Brilliant Manu. One of the things I noticed in the americas is that in winter months, several kids have a mild discoloration on their skin. I was told it is a skin fungus. However, there is nothing like putting it to test. I cant wait to spot the next one for a foldscope project.

  2. Matt says:

    I’d like to see some before and after images of dirty skin and then after cleaning it with soap.

    I joined an Australian woman (who’s name escapes me now) in India last year who was trying to achieve similar results with a different method. She had a kind of gel which binds to bacteria and glows under UV light. She took it to some nurseries in the slums of Ahmedabad and used it with the children.

    First they applied the gel to their hands and saw them glow. Then they washed their hands with soap and repeated. This time there was no glow.

    My impression was that the children were too young to understand. Being a nursery, they were aged from ~2-6. But the staff were amazed at the results and determined to make sure the kids all washed their hands before eating in future.

    I am sure foldscopes could have a similar impact on older children who can understand the significance of what they see. But maybe showing it to teachers and carers can have a more immediate and widespread impact?

  3. Sangita says:

    What a brilliant idea! Live demonstration is one of the most provoking things. I am sure if implemented at large scale will definitely help public to follow hygiene measures. These demonstrations must be from the primary school level itself so that the future citizens become more cautious about themselves and the surroundings.

Leave a Reply