Foldscoping coffee mold in the city of kings

The South America Diaries is a monthlong series documenting Foldscope's first trip to South America. Starting July 13, the team travelled all over Peru, Argentina and Brazil to lead workshops and presentations with schools and organizations. We experienced new cultures, ate cool foods and met tons of people. This is a behind-the-scenes look into the beautiful and mundane experiences that come with our mission to give every person on the planet a microscope.

This is part five in a series. In this post, we eat Papa John's pizza with the Peru staff of the Wildlife Conservation Society and look at coffee mold with university students in Lima, also known as La Ciudad de los Reyes (the city of kings). Read part four here.

Cast of characters in this post: 
The Foldscope team: Jim, Judy, Alice (me), and Rebecca who's just arrived. Paola and Wenying returned home to continue their studies/work.
Professors and students from Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) 
Staff from the Wildlife Conservation Society 

Day 10: Lima, Peru 🍕🌫🏙

Lima’s blanketed in a grey winter fog, and I wake up in a hotel room with air conditioning and a glass door shower. We're in a city with cars and smog and sidewalks that lead into big buildings that Judy likes to point out and say, "Man, it just amazes me how they make those things." I'd never thought I'd regard the rainforest as anything other than an exotic location. When I used to think about the Amazon, I'd say the word Amazon accompanied with jazz hands and wide eyes. But I miss it like I'd miss a home. What a surprise. 

Today, we're meeting Jorge Abad, a professor at Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC), an engineering and technology university in Miraflores, one of Lima's higher-end neighborhoods.

 A display of UTEC engineering majors at the entrance of the university

A display of UTEC engineering majors at the entrance of the university

 The magical, flexible sheet of laser cut wood

The magical, flexible sheet of laser cut wood

UTEC's campus is what I'd characterize as industrial grunge. The place is a matrix of concrete and glass. Perfectly placed, typographically aesthetic signage and motivational quotes are plastered extra large on huge slabs of wall. UTEC is less than ten years old, so in university-years, it's very very new. Dr. Abad told us about partnerships UTEC has made with top-tier universities in the United States, like Harvard, MIT and Purdue, where students from both institutions can participate in research exchange programs. UTEC's maker labs are equipped with laser cutters, 360° scanners for 3-D modeling and cool 3-D printers that print in clay and chocolate. A hodgepodge of half done, all done and already deconstructed projects are strewn out on a heavy wood table. The predominant vibe is the all too familiar feel of a late night machine shop construction fest, do-it-yourself engineering at its finest. One of the students in the machine shop showed me a cool laser-cut sheet pressed wood that has some interesting paper-like qualities in one orientation, and stiff, wood-like qualities in another direction.

 Dr. Abad in his office during our meeting

Dr. Abad in his office during our meeting

Dr. Abad is the director of the environmental and civil engineering departments at UTEC. His research involves assessing water quality in various areas of the Peruvian Amazon basin. One of his big projects focuses on the affects of illegal mining on water quality in Río Madre de Dios, which we visited during our time in Puerto Maldonado. Jim and Dr. Abad have a long conversation about potential low-cost tools that can streamline and automate the data collection process in areas where connection is bad (more like nonexistent, and sensor-data needs to be collected manually). The predominant thought is that creating a cost-effective sensor that works in remote areas will significantly increase the amount of data that can be collected and allow Dr. Abad to come to more definitive and longitudinal conclusions about water quality in the rivers. Jim is in his element here. He gets very excited whenever there's discussion about new potential research and development projects at Foldscope. As we travel and talk to institutions around the world, the critical need for low cost tools, especially in improving field research, goes back to a core Foldscope mission to make the discovery of new knowledge more widely accessible to everyone. 

After our meeting and tour at UTEC, we walk to the Peru office of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and meet with the Peru staff of the organization to talk about Foldscope. WCS has worked with many organizations in South America, including ACEER, whom we worked with in the Peruvian Amazon a week earlier, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, who is a huge supporter of Foldscope. Carmen and Cecilia, who we had last seen in Madre de Dios, and it was a surprise reunion mixed in with the weird feeling of having never seen them outside sweaty jungle paradise and in cosmo civilization. WCS ordered Papa John's pizza for the meeting, and Jim started waxing nostalgic about his obsession with Papa John's garlic sauce during his early PhD years at Prakash Lab. 

Day 11: Lima, Peru ☕️☕️☕️

The room's kind of silent right now as Jim gets ready to give one of our last workshops in Peru. We're at the headquarters of Fe y Alegría, a group that works with a variety of educational organizations and schools to advocate for better public education programs in Peru. We're teaching a small room of primary and secondary school teachers today, and the white light of the projector screen glows on their faces. The unflappability is a stark contrast from the constant din of pre-teens sitting in chairs. Yet, right as we finish the build process and some teachers start imaging their strands of hair under the Foldscope, the energy comes rushing in like a chic black-and-white film turned into full Cinemascope color. Smiles all around. 

And just like that, it's noon and we're on our way to the next stop after a quick intermission at an alpaca-themed souvenir emporium(!). Dr. Abad from our meeting yesterday invited us to give a workshop at UTEC, and one of the students brought over his two half-empty cups of moldy coffee to the front of the classroom as Foldscope tribute. Coffee guy's friend, who was wearing a bright red scarf, was similarly interesting and she used a staple to prick her finger as a ceremonial first sample.

One of the students started talking to Rebecca and me about Peruvian music in a sweet gesture of cultural exchange. He gave us the song that I have ordained the anthem of our trip to Peru.

By 3AM tomorrow morning, we'll be in the air again, on our way to Argentina. I'd like to think that the music is in the movement, feet afootin'. 

Alice Dai has worked with Foldscope since high school and will be a junior at Duke University this fall. She is the trip blogger/photographer. 

All photos taken by Alice unless otherwise attributed.