Stanford professor creates network of citizen scientists

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Stanford bio engineering professor Manu Prakash has created an army of citizen scientists with his foldscope project. (KGO-TV)

Billions of dollars per year are spent on scientific research, and a Stanford researcher is trying to figure out what would happen if millions of people from all around the world chipped in.

Stanford Bioengineering Professor Manu Prakash has created a network of citizen scientists.

We first met professor Prakash when he was unveiling the Foldscope. Users fold the precut sheets into a device capable of examining objects many times smaller than a human hair.

With a cost of under a dollar, the Stanford team was able to ship more than 50,000 Foldscopes to people in more than 130 countries.

"And that's really the real power of the tool. And since it's all documented a kid in Namibia can look at a post from a kid in Alaska, or a kid Pennsylvania," Prakash said.

A central web site now allows users to post their findings and collaborate, like identifying varieties of mosquitoes that could carry deadly diseases, and help eradicate them.

And now that legion of citizen scientists is kicking into overdrive, potentially revolutionizing the way scientific data is collected around the world.

Prakash's team is ramping up to deliver a million new Foldscopes, and they're also developing new low-cost tools that could make citizens scientists even more powerful, like a $5 chemistry set inspired by the workings of a music box.

"This is the long term vision, is to build infrastructure and scientific capability in society that goes far beyond just the professionals," Prakash said.

He says the only rule is users must share their findings, and if possible share the Foldscopes with people in their area, keeping the army of citizen scientists expanding to tackle some of the world's most pressing problems.
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