Researchers at the University of Bath in the UK have developed a 3D-printed microscope design, called OpenFlexure, which is open-source and can be assembled for as little as $18. More complex versions of the design are possible, and the microscope can incorporate full automation and a Raspberry Pi computer. The research team hopes that the design could help with medical research and diagnostics around the world, including in low-resource areas.
The humble microscope is a crucial piece of research equipment in medical labs, but commercial versions can run into tens of thousands of dollars, putting them out of reach for labs in low-resource areas. In an era where medical testing and diagnostics are more important than ever, making these basic pieces of equipment more accessible is a worthwhile goal.
Researchers at the University of Bath set out to do just that, and turned to 3D printing as a way to create inexpensive, open-source microscopes, with much of the advanced functionality of more expensive models.
“We want these microscopes to be used around the world – in schools, in research laboratories, in clinics and in people’s homes if they want a microscope just to play with,” explained Dr Joel Collins, a researcher involved in the project. “You need to be able to pick it up and use it straight away. You also need it to be affordable.”
The basic design costs as little as $18, and this covers the cost of a camera, some components to fasten the microscope, and the printed plastic. More advanced models are also possible, and would cost a few hundred dollars but include a Raspberry Pi computer and a microscope objective.
Collaborators in Tanzania and Kenya have begun printing the microscopes, manufacturing over 100 devices so far, demonstrating that the design is widely adoptable. “Our Tanzanian partners, STICLab, have modified the design to better suit their local market, demonstrating another key strength of open source hardware – the ability to customize, improve, and take ownership of a product,” said Dr Richard Bowman, another researcher involved in the study.
See a video of the microscope components below.
Study in Biomedical Optics Express: Robotic microscopy for everyone: the OpenFlexure microscope
Via: University of Bath