Jul 30, 2017 | By Tess

Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend well funded schools might take for granted that laboratory equipment, such as microscopes, are actually quite expensive. This, of course, means that most schools around the globe do not have access to scientific equipment which can be used to teach, train, and research.

Now, however, thanks to a study done by researchers at the University of Tubingen in Germany and the University of Sussex in the U.K., we now know there’s a way to make low-cost, DIY lab equipment using 3D printing and micro-computers.

The research project, which was recently published in journal Plos Biology, details how a the team of neuroscientists was able to use 3D printing and micro-computers to create a low-cost imaging and microscope system which could be deployed in schools and labs around the world.

Called FlyPi, the piece of DIY equipment is completely open source and can be made for as little as €100 ($116). Compared to standard lab equipment, which can cost upwards of thousands of dollars, the DIY tool is a steal.

The FlyPi incorporates a number of 3D printed parts, a Raspberry Pi micro-computer, and a number of low-cost electronic bits such as LEDs and webcams. Assembled, it can be used for a number of different lab applications, including optogenetics (controlling cells with light), behavioral studies for small animals (fruit flies, larval zebrafish, for instance), and more.

Tom Baden, a neuroscientist at the University of Sussex, and André Maia Chagas, the lead author of the study, were inspired to create the 3D printed microscope tool after working in Tanzania and seeing the bleak state of lab equipment there.

Baden explained: “Across many universities on the continent [Africa], you'll find that equipment is a problem. There are microscopes around but there are more people than microscopes.” His and Chagas’ goal was therefore to create a low cost but still fully functional piece of lab equipment that would make practical research more accessible.

(Images: Thomas Baden)

It took some exploration and research to find which pieces of an imaging and microscope system could be swapped out for cheaper parts, and ultimately they found that things such as LEDs and webcams could work instead of the more expensive traditional parts.

In designing the FlyPi, the scientists were inspired by the maker community, which has been using 3D printing, micro-controllers, and micro-computers as resources for years. The DIY attitude of makers has enabled the creation of many low-cost alternatives to expensive devices and tools.

In sticking with the maker philosophy, Baden and his team also opted to keep their research completely open source, which means that just about anyone can replicate their microscope model. "It's a community driven effort," he said. "We stick it online, people say, 'you did this badly.' It makes things faster and better. The more people do it the better designs we get.”

The full research paper, entitled “The €100 lab: A 3D-printable open-source platform for fluorescence microscopy, optogenetics, and accurate temperature control during behaviour of zebrafish, Drosophila, and Caenorhabditis elegans,” can be found here.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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