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October 22, 2012 AT 12:00 am

DIY lab equipment, courtesy of 3D printing

2009-12-30-023824 Preview Featured-640X480

DIY lab equipment, courtesy of 3D printing.

A lot of scientific software is freeware or free/open source software (FOSS). That’s appropriate: just as the process of science should be open to enhance reproducibility, its tools should be as transparent as possible. Researchers often share their data and algorithms, and publish the output from their simulations on open-access databases such as Cornell’s arXiv. Research hardware—including computer hardware—is another matter entirely. Even small, common pieces of laboratory equipment can be costly, and may not be hackable without (at minimum) violating warranties or terms of use.

Imagine a world where lab workers can create their own custom equipment in-house, using either their own designs or ones they’ve downloaded. A glimpse of that world appears in today’s issue ofScience, provided by 3D printing, the relatively low-cost fabrication technique where ceramics, polymers, and other materials are deposited in layers to build up a three-dimensional shape.


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