DIY analytical instruments

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  • Published: Sep 18, 2012
  • Author: Jon Evans
  • Channels: Laboratory Informatics / Proteomics & Genomics / Electrophoresis / HPLC / Detectors / Ion Chromatography / Sample Preparation / Gas Chromatography

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As detailed in an article in this week's Science, scientists are increasingly using open-source design software and 3D printers to fabricate scientific instruments, from reaction vessels to orbital shakers to centrifuges.

As well as offering a much cheaper way to get hold of instruments – the orbital shaker cost less than US$200 to produce whereas a commercial one would cost over US$1,000 – this open-source approach could offer a way to produce entirely novel instruments with novel properties. For example, Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow, UK, used a 3D printer to fabricate reaction vessels with embedded catalytic particles able to conduct hydrogenation reactions.

'Using open-source hardware has easily saved our research group thousands of dollars, and we are only getting warmed up,' says Joshua Pearce at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, US, who wrote the Science article. 'This will change the way things are done. There's no stopping it.'

What are the implications of this open-source approach for the analytical sciences? Already, scientists are using 3D printers to fabricate microfluidic chips, but what other analytical instruments could be fabricated in this way? Indeed, are analytical scientists already using 3D printers to fabricate some of their analytical equipment?

(Photo of Joshua Pearce with an open-source 3D printer courtesy of Sarah Bird/Michigan Tech).


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