Vocab Dose 5 Newspaper Vocab by Ajay Sir
One-dollar labs for the ‘citizen scientist’
Frugality(economical,कमखर्ची), crafting inexpensive knock-offs and making do with little may be the ethos(character,प्रकृति) of India’s pharmaceutical industry, its manufacturing sector and the spirit with which our scientists conduct their research but an Indian-origin bio-engineer at Stanford University has just won one of America’s grandest prizes — the MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant — worth Rs.4 crore for designing a $1 microscope.
Towards do-it-yourself science
Manu Prakash from Rampur, Uttar Pradesh and an engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, has made a name for fashioning ingenious(simple,सरल) devices that make the essence of science — observation and experiments — accessible to those who can’t afford expensive instruments.
His best-known is the ‘Foldscope’, a microscope that can be fashioned out of paper that comes pre-fixed like in a jigsaw puzzle set. Most of these kits have been distributed free so far and the aim is to have it cost less than a dollar. The kits come with a glass slide that can be slipped into the do-it-yourself microscope and can be used to check for microbes in a soil or water sample, closely observe the anatomy of a water lily or the striations of an earthworm.
Another of his inventions, according to a press statement from the MacArthur Foundation, is a sticker-like microfluid chip that can be used to collect thousands of nanolitre-sized droplets of saliva from mosquito bites in order to test for pathogens. Dr. Prakash also recently demonstrated a novel diagnostic tool, a “water computer”, which involves building a computer out of tiny(small,छोटा) air bubbles travelling in a microfluidic channel.
India has been an early adopter of his devices. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has signed a Rs.1.5-crore agreement with the Prakash Lab at Stanford University to procure 10,000 Foldscopes that could then be given to schools, colleges, forest field officers and help encourage an interest in field observation and research. Already workshops with schools, students and colleges in Delhi, Guwahati and Kaziranga (Assam) have enthused students and teachers, says Shailja Gupta, a DBT official who coordinates the Foldscope programme. “I’ve used it, my daughter likes it. The charm of the device is that anyone can use it to see their surroundings differently… the microbes on your food for instance,” she says.
Earlier this year, Dr. Prakash’s lab came up with a new device that modifies a child’s toy, whirligig, into a device called a ‘paperfuge’ that — he and his colleagues claimed in a June research paper — could be used to “isolate malaria parasites in 15 minutes from whole human blood”. The device can be used to separate pure plasma in less than 90 seconds.
Just what India needs
Expanding the materials used could mean new kinds of devices that don’t need electricity to develop point-of-care diagnostics, especially in resource-poor settings, the paper added. India accounts for over 17 per cent of the world’s population while spending less than 1 per cent of the world’s total health expenditure.
The healthcare expenditure stands at 4.1 per cent of its GDP, which is among the lowest in the world, and dealing with challenges like these requires affordable interventions, something that both public and private healthcare experts have repeatedly emphasised through the years. “If there were more devices like Prakash’s, there’d be uses for them that we can’t yet envisage(imagine,विचारना),” says Ms. Gupta, adding, “We are exploring options like a manufacturing facility to scale up these devices.”
Dr. Prakash’s approach to engineering allows a wider range of professionals to become so-called ‘citizen scientists’ and bring new facts about nature and solutions to technical problems to the fore. The Foldscope allows images of samples to be relayed via an app to a central site that stores information, about an intriguing(fascinating,लुभावना) microbe or a new earthworm or the beginnings of a new plant infection from a place that may be otherwise inaccessible to scientists.
“It certainly isn’t a replacement for the lab microscope,” says Vibha Narang, coordinator of the Botany Department, Atma Ram Sanatan Dharma College, Delhi, “but we saw a lot of fervor(enthusiasm,उत्साह) among school students.”
Her college was part of a workshop organised by the DBT and Dr. Prakash to explain the Foldscope. “But for collecting samples during a field trip or a quick survey, I think this is a very handy device,” she adds.