The chemistry set costs just US $5

An Indian-origin scientist has developed a tiny chemistry set which only costs $ 5 and can be used to test water quality and provide affordable medical diagnostic tests in the developing world.

Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford, has won $ 50,000 from the Science Play and Research Kit Competition to further develop his prototype into a low-cost product, which he thinks can have widespread use both in the developing world and as a creative toy for kids.

The idea for the device came to Prakash from a toy music box. The box used a tiny hand crank to pull a paper ribbon through a set of pins on concentric disks. When one of the pins hit a hole in the paper, the disk and pin rotated, causing another pin to pluck a metal strip to make a sound.

Play meets work

Prakash got the idea that the rotating pins could also be used to pump fluids through tiny channels or to control valves and droplet generators in a programmable fashion.

Prakash worked with graduate student George Korir to pair the hand-cranked toy with a small silicon chip containing tiny channels for manipulating fluids.

The portable, programmable chemistry kit could be used to test water quality, provide affordable medical diagnostic tests, assess soil chemistry for agriculture or serve as a snake bite venom test kit. Although the original prototype was made from music box parts, Prakash and Korir have many versions in which the crank and pins (they call this part the actuator) were printed on a 3-D printer.

Open to change

They said the actuator, the paper tape and the silicon chip can all be modified to meet different uses, and can be made from inexpensive, durable materials costing less than $ 5. Prakash has also developed a low-cost microscope called Foldscope that can be folded like origami out of paper.

(This article was published on April 9, 2014)
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