Manu Prakash is a physicist working at the molecular scale to try and understand no less than how the world really works. As he told BusinessWeek in 2010, he is humbled and inspired by nature’s own solutions to the world’s biggest problems. “I build and design tools to uncover how and why biological systems so often outsmart us. I believe one day we will be able to understand the physical design principles of life on Earth, leading to a new way to look at the world we live in.”
Prakash’s ultra-low-cost, “print-and-fold” paper microscope won a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation in 2012. Prakash developed a pocket-size paper microscope that is powerful enough to detect a malaria parasite in a drop of blood, yet costs just 50 cents. Prakash’s newest device, inspired by a music box, leverages punch cards and a hand crank to carry out complex chemical analyses. Changing the holes on the cards determines which chemicals will be released when. Prakash envisions scientists using the apparatus to test soil chemistry or detect different kinds of snake venom, but it could be modified to run almost any kind of assay. Prakash’s inventions may be designed to address complicated problems, but their low cost and simple designs make them accessible to everyone.
Born in Meerut, India, Prakash earned a BTech in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur before moving to the United States. He did his master’s and PhD in Applied Physics at MIT before founding the Prakash Lab at Stanford University.