Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Do it yourself and save: Making equipment for the lab, in the lab

Date:
September 13, 2012
Source:
Michigan Technological University
Summary:
The open-source revolution is driving down the cost of doing science by letting researchers to make their own lab equipment.

Joshua Pearce with a second-generation, open-source, 3D printer called a Mendel RepRap. The machine is made up of parts from any hardware store, open-source electronics available online, and parts that it can make for itself--all the red, white and blue components.
Credit: Sarah Bird/Michigan Tech

The DIY movement has vaulted from the home to the research lab, and it's driven by the same motives: saving tons of money and getting precisely what you want. It's spawning a revolution, says Joshua Pearce of Michigan Technological University.

Three converging forces, all open source, are behind this sea change, he explains in an article in the Sept. 13 issue of Science: software, 3D printers and microcontrollers. With these tools, researchers from all over the world are driving down the cost of doing science by making their own lab equipment.

The open-source Arduino microcontroller is key. "The beauty of this tool is that it's very easy to learn," said Pearce, an associate professor. "It makes it so simple to automate processes."

Here's how it works. The Arduino -- which retails for about $35 at RadioShack -- can run any number of scientific instruments, among them a Geiger counter, an oscilloscope and a DNA sequencer. But it really shines when it operates 3D printers like the open-source RepRap. This microwave-sized contraption starts at about $500 and can actually make parts for itself. Once you have one RepRap, you can make an entire flock. Pearce's lab has five.

3D printers make stuff by laying down sub-millimeter-thick layers of plastic one after another in a specific pattern. This allows users to make devices to their own specifications, so they don't have to make due with what's available off the shelf.

The Arduino controls the process, telling the printer to make anything from toy trains to a lab jack.

Lab jacks raise and lower optical equipment and aren't radically different from the jacks that raise and lower your car, except that they are more precise. Pearce received a quote for a thousand dollar version, which inspired him to design his own. Using a RepRap, inexpensive plastic filament and a few nuts and bolts, Pearce and his students made one for under a buck.

Then they posted the OpenSCAD code they used to make the lab jack on Thingiverse, a web repository of designs where members of the "maker community" can submit their designs for all kinds of objects and receive feedback.

"Immediately someone I'd never met said, 'This isn't going to work quite right, you need to do this,'" Pearce said. "We made a simple change, and now I have a lab jack that's superior to our original design."

Thingiverse is a child of the free and open-source software movement, or FOSS. Not only does it provide top-notch designs for all manner of objects, it can bring thousands of expert minds to bear on a problem, Pearce said. It's the ultimate in teamwork.

"It is creating a gift economy. We've paid into the community by submitting our designs, and we get payment back in the form of excellent feedback and free access to other peoples work. The more you give, the more you get, and in the process everyone wins," he said.

"The Thingiverse community already has a whole line of open-source designs for over 30,000 things, and everyday it's only getting better."

And it's cheap, which is where the revolution comes in.

At Michigan Tech, Pearce is organizing a student-based Enterprise to do open-source projects for industry and to build custom-made instrumentation for university faculty at a fraction of the cost. "This gives students the skills they need and lets them benefit the entire field," he said.

In university research labs everywhere, thousands of dollars that once paid for equipment can now support graduate students. High schools will be able to afford good science labs. More research can be funded with fewer dollars, driving more discoveries.

"Using open-source hardware has easily saved our research group thousands of dollars, and we are only getting warmed up. This will change the way things are done," Pearce said. "There's no stopping it."

To see and use the designs Pearce's research group has submitted to Thingiverse, including a replacement for a $2,500 automated filter wheel changer, a laser welding system, and the open-source RecycleBot that turns waste plastic like milk jugs into 3D printer filament, go to http://www.thingiverse.com/jpearce/things .

Pearce holds faculty appointments in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Tech.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan Technological University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Joshua M. Pearce. Building Research Equipment with Free, Open-Source Hardware. Science, 2012; 337 (6100): 1303-1304 DOI: 10.1126/science.1228183

Cite This Page:

Michigan Technological University. "Do it yourself and save: Making equipment for the lab, in the lab." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 September 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120913141138.htm>.
Michigan Technological University. (2012, September 13). Do it yourself and save: Making equipment for the lab, in the lab. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120913141138.htm
Michigan Technological University. "Do it yourself and save: Making equipment for the lab, in the lab." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120913141138.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Baluchistan Mining Eyes an Uncertain Future

Baluchistan Mining Eyes an Uncertain Future

AFP (July 29, 2014) Coal mining is one of the major industries in Baluchistan but a lack of infrastructure and frequent accidents mean that the area has yet to hit its potential. Duration: 01:58 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short

Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short

AP (July 29, 2014) The U.S. nuclear industry started building its first new plants using prefabricated Lego-like blocks meant to save time and prevent the cost overruns that crippled the sector decades ago. So far, it's not working. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Lithium Battery 'Holy Grail' Could Provide 4 Times The Power

Lithium Battery 'Holy Grail' Could Provide 4 Times The Power

Newsy (July 28, 2014) Stanford University published its findings for a "pure" lithium ion battery that could have our everyday devices and electric cars running longer. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

AP (July 28, 2014) AP Investigation: As the Obama administration weans the country off dirty fuels, energy companies are ramping-up overseas coal exports at a heavy price. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins