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Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Open Source Lab Tools

Had not thought of this, clever idea as it is applied.

Bringing Open Source to the Global Lab Bench


In 2015, Richard Bowman, an optics scientist, began experimenting with 3D printing a microscope as a single piece in order to reduce the time and effort of reproducing the design. Soon after, he started the OpenFlexure project, an open-license 3D-printed microscope. The project quickly took over his research agenda and grew into a global community of hundreds of users and developers, including professional scientists, hobbyists, community scientists, clinical researchers, and teachers. Anyone with access to a 3D printer can download open-source files from the internet to create microscopes that can be used for doing soil science research, detecting diseases such as malaria, or teaching microbiology, among other things. Today, the project is supported by a core team at the Universities of Bath and Cambridge in the United Kingdom, as well as in Tanzania by the Ifakara Health Institute and Bongo Tech & Research Labs, an engineering company. 

OpenFlexure is one of many open science hardware projects that are championed by the Gathering for Open Science Hardware (GOSH), a transnational network of open science hardware advocates. Although there are differences in practice, open hardware projects operate on similar principles to open-source software, and they span disciplines ranging from nanotechnology to environmental monitoring. GOSH defines the field as “any piece of hardware used for scientific investigations that can be obtained, assembled, used, studied, modified, shared, and sold by anyone. It includes standard lab equipment as well as auxiliary materials, such as sensors, biological reagents, analog and digital electronic components.” Compared to an off-the-shelf microscope, which may cost thousands of dollars, an OpenFlexure microscope may cost a few hundred. By being significantly cheaper and easier to maintain, open hardware enables more people in more places to do science.

The academic production of open hardware has increased exponentially in the last five years with the emergence of networks, dedicated publication venues, peer-reviewed literature, and thematic events, all aimed at supporting open science hardware projects. Successful projects have led to greater access to equipment, which increases research efficiency, and have fostered equity and public participation in science. However, open hardware is still the exception in science, and the designs of most research tools remain unavailable to their users, which limits their accessibility and adaptability. Encouraging broader use of open science hardware will require funding agencies, universities, and international organizations to cooperate and incentivize researchers to develop and share hardware designs.


Open hardware addresses a significant hurdle for global scientists: science equipment is often expensive to purchase and difficult or impossible to customize or repair. New research questions—or questions in new research settings—often require that tools be modified or customized. Lack of access to designs makes tools more difficult to customize, leading to delays and additional costs.

Open hardware is still the exception in science, and the designs of most research tools remain unavailable to their users, which limits their accessibility and adaptability.

Historically, science hardware manufacturing has been concentrated in well-resourced countries, making it unreasonably difficult and expensive to obtain and repair elsewhere. As a result, researchers, educators, and others outside academia and at the periphery of these production centers find it almost impossible to access and maintain research infrastructure. The World Health Organization estimates that 70% of donated medical equipment in sub-Saharan Africa is out of service or not in use due to lack of authorized service engineers and necessary parts.   .... ' 

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