Thing of the Week: Freely available science equipment

The gadgets on Thingiverse are incredibly useful around the house, but what if you’re a researcher with little funding (like most researchers)? Thingiverse still has you covered. Science is inherently open source, as it’s ongoing discussions amongst anyone that has anything scientific to add, but the equipment can be closed source and REALLY expensive, so it fits that freely available scientific equipment is found on Thingiverse. Here are some of my favorites:

Open Source Orbital Shaker by jmil

open source orbital shaker

This is an entry into the Open Call for Open Science Equipment Contest; it’s used in bench-top science and to shake live mammalian cell and tissue cultures. Normally these cost about $1500, but with some 3D printed parts, some stepper motors, an Arduino board (you knew it was coming), plus some miscellaneous nuts and bolts, this shaker system costs less than $150 to build, and around $60 for additional shakers that can run on it (four shown above, so ~$320 total). They can operate at 0.2-5 Hz (revolutions per second); check them out running at 2 Hz. According to the creator, cells thrive just fine in them.

Hans’ Lens Stand by ThePlanetMike

hans lens stand

Hans is a teacher, and luckily Hans has a creative friend with a 3D printer, because optical benches run in the $90 range. These simple printed stands are designed to hold 50mm diameter lenses, and they fit on standard meter sticks, so setting precise distances between them is easy; they also double as legs, and can hold light sources too.

PublicLaboratory Mobile Spectrometer v3.0 by BradDudenhoffer

public laboratory mobile spectrometer

If you aren’t familiar with spectrometry, it’s pretty rad. Essentially it’s light diffusion that tells the makeup of known or unknown substances; a light is shone through a substance, that substance blocks/absorbs some of that light, what light that passes through is then diffused, making it easier to measure, and then that specific spectrum can be compared to others, possibly revealing what the substance is. This printed piece is part of a PublicLaboratory.org project, and it works on any Android or Apple phone/tablet that has a camera with macro-mode focus capability. The spectrometer is enabled through spectralworkbench.org, where the library of spectra is growing. So what can you do with this? You can determine how pure your water is, if your olive oil is diluted with vegetable oil, if there’s high fructose corn syrup in your corn syrup, and an unlimited amount of other useful determinations. Spectrometers usually cost thousands of dollars, so the fact that a few dollars of material can do the same thing is a testament to what open science can achieve.

Scientific funding can be hard to come by, even with Obama’s STEM initiative, so these DIY research tools can really come in handy. So what are you waiting for? Turn on your 3D printer and get your research on!