A new book covers how to construct laboratory equipment on the cheap using open-source hardware and software.
Joshua Pearce, an associate professor at Michigan Technological University, bemoans the "often extreme prices we pay for scientific equipment" and relates this anecdote:
"Last year, I received a quote for a $1,000 lab jack. A lab jack is not anoverly special or sophisticated research tool; it simply moves things up anddown like a jack for a car, only more precisely and the “things” it has to moveare much smaller. That price for the application I was planning on using itfor (moving millimeter-scale solar photovoltaic cells into a beam of light)was absurd, but as many researchers in academia know, the prices are effectivelymultiplied because of institutional overheads. Thus, at my institution forexample, where we pay 71% overhead for industry-sponsored research, purchasingthat lab jack would demand that I raise $1710 from sponsors!"
Situations like this were among the factors that motivated Pearce to write a new book called Open-Source Lab: How to build your own hardware and reduce research costs. Pearce explains that many researchers now simply 3D-print a lot of their lab equipment -- files for lab jacks have been downloaded thousands of times, he says.
Pearce intends his book to be a sort of guide to creating your own open-source lab gear. The topics he covers include software rights, best practices and etiquette for using open-source hardware, open-source microcontrollers, open-source centrifuges and spectrometers, colorimeters, and even open-source laser welding. There are also some helpful hints for those who are 3D-printing their equipment for the first time.
The 271-page book as well covers numerous examples of lab gear Pearce or his colleagues have devised from open-sourced IP. Pipette stands, a smart-phone-based spectrometer, test tube and cassette racks, forceps, 3D-printed fluid filters, and a Geiger counter were among the projects we found interesting. Ditto for the dorm-room refrigerator converted into an open-source environmental chamber.
A lot of this stuff is made with an open-source 3D printer -- specifically a self-replicating rapid prototyper, or RepRap. And there is an extended chapter on how to build one of these things.
Pearce produced a short video to go along with his book. The book itself is from Elsevier and is available both in print and in e-book form.