PerspectiveMaterials Science

Building Research Equipment with Free, Open-Source Hardware

Science  14 Sep 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6100, pp. 1303-1304
DOI: 10.1126/science.1228183

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Summary

Most experimental research projects are executed with a combination of purchased hardware equipment, which may be modified in the laboratory and custom single-built equipment fabricated inhouse. However, the computer software that helps design and execute experiments and analyze data has an additional source: It can also be free and open-source software (FOSS) (1). FOSS has the advantage that the code is openly available for modification and is also often free of charge. In the past, customizing software has been much easier than custom-building equipment, which often can be quite costly because fabrication requires the skills of machinists, glassblowers, technicians, or outside suppliers. However, the open-source paradigm is now enabling creation of open-source scientific hardware by combining three-dimensional (3D) printing with open-source microcontrollers running on FOSS. These developments are illustrated below by several examples of equipment fabrication that can better meet particular specifications at substantially lower overall costs.