Plastic microscope for developing nations

Editorial

Rebecca Pool

Monday, August 7, 2017 - 19:15
Cheap, open source microscope with a 3D printed, plastic frame. [Richard Bowman]
 
UK-based researchers have won £1 million to create cheap, open-source, 3D printed microscopes for disease diagnosis and scientific research.
 
Physicist, Dr Richard Bowman from the University of Bath, and colleagues, have already developed a prototype general purpose optical microscope from mass produced lenses, a Raspberry Pi mini-computer and a 3D-printed plastic frame.
 
Costing only £30 in parts and reliably magnifying up to 1.5 millionths of a metre, the prototype will now be tested and refined as part of the Global Challenges Research funded project.
 
“I think we’re quite used to the idea of open source software, but not necessarily open source hardware," explains Bowman. "With consumer electronics being so cheap nowadays we can actually get a surprisingly long way and make a high-quality instrument for serious microscopy."
 
“By releasing the designs as free, open-source products we want to enable local entrepreneurs to produce the medical and scientific equipment that will improve healthcare, education, and research in some of the poorest areas in the world,” he adds.
 
Components of cheap, open source microscope. [Bowman]
 
The researchers will also be testing the microscope’s potential for automation; programming the microscopes to do more work automatically would free up the time of medics and researchers to do other things until a later stage, and improve consistency.
 
Another potential advantage is that digitally storing the images of tested samples to keep a record would allow them to be revisited for second opinions, training or further scientific research, which presently isn’t possible after samples are destroyed.
 
Dr Bowman is currently looking for a Research Associate to work on the project: learn more here.
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