University of Birmingham > Talks@bham > Metamaterials Research Group Seminars > Robotic microscopy for everyone: high-end instruments you can 3D print

Robotic microscopy for everyone: high-end instruments you can 3D print

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Miguel Navarro-Cia.

Consumer electronics and the growing hardware “hacker” movement mean that the sensors, actuators, and microcontrollers to create high-performance instruments are now cheap and readily available. One of the limiting factors on the performance of DIY instruments is the mechanical assembly to integrate all the components, which must often be positioned with micron precision. We have shown this is possible using inexpensive 3D printed plastic parts, opening up the possibility of high-performance devices that can be produced in any reasonably well equipped “maker space”. This talk will detail the sub-micron performance we are able to achieve, and show the applications of this technology from malaria diagnostics to fibre alignment.

The Openflexure Microscope [1,2] is a highly customisable mechanical and optical design for a microscope, with options ranging from a modified $3 webcam up to oil immersion 100x objective lenses, including beamsplitters for fluorescence and full computer control. This makes it possible to replace a basic manual microscope with a robotic one, with exciting prospects for medical diagnostic microscopy. Its small size, low power consumption, and low cost make it ideal for parallelising experiments, and the open-source hardware and software have been designed for ease of customisation and integration into other experiments.

More general micromanipulation is also possible using 3D printed parts, and we will also present the Openflexure Block Stage [3], a monolithic plastic flexure stage with 2×2x2mm travel, sub-20nm step size, and mechanical performance that comfortably surpasses the requirements of auto-aligning single mode optical fibre.

All of this work is shared as “open source hardware” with a particular focus on making it accessible. We are working closely with producers in Tanzania and Kenya, who are able to produce microscopes good enough to use in a clinical study for malaria diagnosis. This talk will conclude with some discussion of the possibilities opened up by open hardware in experimental science, and the challenges of running a project where experiments are replicated in the Global South.

  1. “A one-piece 3D printed flexure translation stage for open-source microscopy” Sharkey, Foo, Kabla, Baumberg & Bowman, Rev. Sci. Instrum. 87, 025104 (2016); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4941068
  2. https://github.com/rwb27/openflexure_microscope/
  3. https://github.com/rwb27/openflexure_block_stage/

This talk is part of the Metamaterials Research Group Seminars series.

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