Move over Home and Garden TV. Scientists are using the do-it-yourself (DIY) mentality to make over their labs—not the décor but the research equipment.
Self-made beakers, flasks, and other tools gives scientists worldwide access to equipment at a fraction of the cost, according to Joshua Pearce, an engineer at Michigan Technological University. To fabricate lab equipment, DIY science uses publicly available software, 3D printers, and other easily accessible technology.
RadioShack carries Arduino microcontrollers for $35. “So, they are pretty mainstream,” said Pearce, adding that many companies also carry 3D printers. “In general, most scientists now have access to them, however, I know that some scientists in the developing world still have trouble sourcing some materials like 3D printer filament,” he added.
Overall, the DIY process has saved Pearce thousands of dollars, and it could do the same for other scientists as well, he said. “Even some of the best scientists spend the majority of their time applying for funding rather than thinking about their work,” mainly because lab equipment is expensive, he said. He explained that at most major research centers, overhead costs are more than 50%, which means that a $50,000 research tool needs a minimum of $100,000 in grant funding.
"If you can make the tool yourself for $5000, you can either use the saved funds for other uses such as funding graduate students or you can use the time freed up from writing additional grants to do real science," and “the more time scientists are doing research the better it is for any scientific field and the rest of society,” he said.
Pearce conceded that the revolution in self-made science equipment is in its infancy. Scientists can't yet print entire nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers and other large instruments. But, he added: "In the not so distant future, even our most complex tools will be open source. It is simply a superior method of technological development.”
1. Pearce, J. M. 2012. Building research equipment with free, Open-Source hardware. Science 337(6100):1303-1304.