The DIY movement has vaulted from the home to the research lab, and it’s driven by the same motives: saving tons of money and getting precisely what you want. It’s spawning a revolution, says Joshua Pearce.
Three converging forces, all open source, are behind this sea change, he explains in an article in the Sept. 13 issue of Science: software, 3D printers and microcontrollers. With these tools, researchers from all over the world are driving down the cost of doing science by making their own lab equipment.
The open-source Arduino microcontroller is key. “The beauty of this tool is that it’s very easy to learn,” said Pearce, an associate professor at Michigan Technological University. “It makes it so simple to automate processes.”
Here’s how it works. The Arduino—which retails for about $35 at RadioShack— can run any number of scientific instruments, among them a Geiger counter, an oscilloscope and a DNA sequencer. But it really shines when it operates 3D printers like the open-source RepRap. This microwave-sized contraption starts at about $500 and can actually make parts for itself. Once you have one RepRap, you can make an entire flock. Pearce’s lab has five.