Around the world, some very bright, creative people are coming up with some very innovative uses for paper that truly represent “outside the box” thinking. Here are a few of our favorite paper inventions that have the power to change the world for the better.
When you hear the word “origami,” your mind probably imagines cranes, paper airplanes, and funny pointed hats. But Stanford University professor Manu Prakash and his team of researchers have taken this folded paper art to a whole new level with the Foldscope.
This ground-breaking invention consists of a flat sheet of paper, an LED, a watch battery, and a few tiny optical units that can be folded together — just like origami — to create a functioning microscope. This portable microscope offers a number of benefits, especially for medical personnel in developing countries. For starters, it’s easy to assemble, as it consists of just a few parts. The foldable design itself is printed directly onto a sheet of paper.
Plus, it’s lightweight. The microscope’s optical devices are about the size of a grain of sand — so it’s easy to move from one spot to another and simple to store or take into the field. The Foldscope is inexpensive, costing from $.50 to $1 to manufacture, yet powerful, with the ability to magnify objects up to 2,000 times and to project images onto almost any flat surface.
Best of all, the Foldscope provides healthcare workers with a cheap, simple, and effective way to diagnose diseases such as malaria, improving the lives of those in developing countries.
In many parts of the world, safe, drinkable water isn’t readily available; diseases related to contaminated water lead to more than 3 million deaths each year. Many of these deaths could be prevented if people had access to filters — and knowledge — about water safety issues.
That’s where Water is Life comes in. This non-profit organization partnered with researchers at the University of Virginia and Carnegie Mellon University to create a (paper) book that not only teaches recipients about water hygiene, but also comes with built-in water filters (its pages) that eliminate 99% of the waterborne particles and microbes that cause diseases like E. coli, cholera, and typhoid.
The Drinkable Book performs almost like a coffee filter; when water passes through one of its specially treated paper filters, germs and bacteria are killed by a special coating of silver nitrate nanoparticles that render treated water as safe as tap water in developed nations. The book costs just a few cents to produce and provides enough filtration to last up to four years.
Finally, researchers from Peru’s University of Engineering Technology took a familiar sight — the billboard — and transformed it into a water-producing tool. More than 10 percent of Lima’s 7.5 million residents have little to no access to potable water. But UTEC’s innovative invention gathers moisture from the air during humid summer days and runs it through a series of condensers.
The water is then cleaned through a reverse-osmosis system, and Lima residents can access the clean water through a faucet at the bottom of the sign. This amazing invention provides almost 100 liters of water per day.
As you can see, paper isn’t just for brochures and business cards anymore. It’s — literally — saving the world!