This tutorial will show you how to make a thermal cycler from scratch for about $85. In short, PCR(polymerase chain reaction) amplifies bits of DNA, creating millions of copies of a target sequence. You can use it to test a DNA sample for a specific gene, for instance, to check for genetic modification in food and for hereditary gene testing.
During PCR, a mixture of DNA, primer and DNA polymerase is cycled between three different temperature settings, over and over again. This project uses an arduino to control two high-power resistors to heat up the sample, a computer fan to cool down, and a thermocouple to keep track of the temperature. The design supports two samples at a time, though it could probably be extended to support more.
The parts are all off-the shelf, and the assembly should take a few hours. You will need access to a shop (at the very least a ban saw and drill press).