Neuroscientists find new way to make lab equipment on the cheap


Contemning 3D printing, cheap microcomputers and some other components you could pick up at at your townswoman electronics store, researchers have pioneered an open-source, do-it-yourself substitute to prohibitively expensive lab equipment.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Plos Biology unraveled how neuroscientists from the Universities of Tubingen in Germany and Sussex in the U.K. have spawned a low-cost imaging and microscope system for research, training and teaching.


The ‘FlyPi’ process costs less than $150 Cdn. (Thomas Baden Photo)

Called «FlyPi,» this framework costs less than $150 Cdn. That’s a far cry from a more natural tab for new laboratory equipment, which can run into the hundreds of thousands.

Co-author Tom Baden, a neuroscientist and older lecturer at the University of Sussex, said the system marries two low-cost methods that have been embraced by the maker community in recent years. These count 3D printing and micro-controllers or micro-computers such as like those made by Arduino or Raspberry Pi. 

«One unmistakable use is schools, I think. They don’t usually have microscopes but it’s very edifying for biology or whatever you want to use it for,» said Baden.

The FlyPi can perform numerous precept lab functions ranging from optogenetics, the use of light to control cells, to behavioural analyses on small animals such as roundworms, fruit flies and zebrafish larvae — key species for neuroscience fashion.

‘More people than microscopes’

Its invention came about out of exigency when both Baden and lead author André Maia Chagas were job in Tanzania, where lab equipment was scarce.

«Across many universities on the continent [Africa], you’ll call up that equipment is a problem,» said Baden. «There are microscopes encompassing but there are more people than microscopes.»

They started storing around in cheap electronics departments for items they could use, espying that things like simple LED lights and web cams could be habituated to in place of more expensive components.

Along with co-author Lucia Prieto Godino of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, they’ve since inculcated courses in 3D printing, programming and DIY lab equipment at universities in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan and Tanzania.

The developers share a keen interest in spreading «unobstruct labware» — the laboratory equivalent of open-source software where laws is made available to others to use, change and share.

‘Faster and better’ 

«It’s a community driven struggle,» said Baden. «We stick it online, people say, ‘you did this badly.’ It dote ons things faster and better. The more people do it the better designs we get.»

Technology kidney 3D printing had «made building stuff easier,» he said. «The notion that scientists physique things is not new. It’s kind of a necessity of the job. There are some who like to doing that and some who keep away from it when they can.»

Until recently, building a new piece of laboratory outfit in an academic setting required a trip to a university’s mechanical or electronics workshop. This raise the white flags good equipment but can be time consuming, said Baden.

Today scientists can try a construction on a 3D printer, come to the conclusion it would work better with a discrepancy drilled in a slightly different place, for instance, and try again.

«I think what’s in the end happening here is that things are getting faster and cheaper to do.»

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