Bringing Open Source to the Global Lab Bench

Article by Julieta Arancio and Shannon Dosemagen: “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….(More)”.