3D printed instruments

Ultra Low-Cost molecular biology instrumentation for resource-limited settings

Matthew M. Champion, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Exposure to and performing research are critical to developing independent research infrastructures and promoting the training of future thought-leaders in STEM fields; both domestically and abroad. The high-precision equipment necessary to perform many basic molecular biology techniques remains out of reach of a substantial portion of students and environments.  We have been utilizing components developed through the OLPC (One-Laptop Per Child) project to design molecular biology instrumentation at costs approaching 1% of retail. We developed with the aid of a high-school student a $20 electroporator with reusable cuvettes capable of transforming DNA into bacteria. This device uses off-the shelf controls, and was competitive with commercial instruments; it was awarded the top science prize in Indiana in 2011, and substantial success at ISEF(NSF) science fairs. The REU student will fabricate and test our next modules of laboratory equipment. These will include PCR equipment, (thermal cycling), automated liquid handling robotics, low-cost liquid separation devices, and automated mini-prep scale DNA purification. In order to reduce barriers to engage these technologies in all settings, we take advantage of the high-machining tolerances and easy assembly of Legos married to the necessary external components via 3D printed adapters. The instruments will use open-source Raspberry-Pi and Arduino-based programming, so some background with these microcontrollers would be helpful. The student will learn a lot about biomolecular chemistry by designing and fabricating this equipment, and the toolkit of instruments will be useful for many educational venues (high schools, BioBricks teams).