• Open-source through the lens of a microscope

    Lou Del Bello

A cheap professional microscope based on open-source technologies has been developed by a group of engineers at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

The project is part of the OpenLabTools initiative, aimed at providing a forum and knowledge centre for the development of low-cost and open-access scientific tools.

The idea is to enable research centres all over the world to do work even with a tiny budget. This may be a spur to education and scientific development in countries with limited resources.

The microscope prototype will cost around US$800, whereas conventional microscopes cost between US$15,000 and US$80,000. It will be modular and simple to replicate, improve and adapt to different research purposes, as the instructions will be made available online.

The microscope's electronics are controlled by Raspberry Pi, the US$25 computer launched in 2012 by engineers at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Originally designed for educational purposes, this computer is the size of a smartphone and has proven to be suitable for a variety of uses, including gaming and research.

"We are not trying to develop a new cutting-edge technology," says Alexandre Kabla, project supervisor at the University of Cambridge. "We want to use tools already available on the market to design new and flexible products. Our aim is to share results and build a community that will progressively make these instruments better."