Carolyn Kormann has an article, Through the Looking Glass, in this week's New Yorker. This article profiles Manu Prakash, a biophysicist at Stanford and his invention of the Foldscope. The Foldscope is a small, foldable microscope, with the case made of paper. It is an example of frugal science. Prakash hopes to make these microscopes widely available to people in third world countries. One impact might be that residents in, say, African countries will be more conscious of disease-causing micro-organisms, since they can now see such. But, it is not clear to me, what the overall impact of this project might be.
Frugal science reminds me somewhat of E.F. Schumacher's "appropriate technology". It seems to me that in the last few years I've read articles about people developing new stoves and toilets without water targeted to have very low cost and for distribution among the global poor. (THose links are the result of googling now - not where I first read about them.) It seems to me solar power now gives isolated communities a capability to have power without being hooked up to an extensive infrastructure. I like to look for hopeful stories.