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Lab-quality microscope for £15

For the first time, labs around the world can 3D print their own precision microscopes to analyse samples and detect diseases, thanks to an open-source design created at the University of Bath.

The OpenFlexure Microscope, described in Biomedical Optics Express, is a fully automated, laboratory-grade instrument with motorised sample positioning and focus control.

It is unique among 3D-printed microscopes in its ability to yield high-quality images. It has been designed to be easy to use, with an intuitive software interface and simplified alignment procedures. It is also highly customisable, meaning it can be adapted for laboratory, school and home use.

The Bath design is a lot more affordable than a commercial microscope, both in terms of the upfront cost and the maintenance costs of the equipment.

An OpenFlexure microscope can be constructed for as little as £15. A top-end version would cost a couple of hundred pounds to produce, and would include a microscope objective and an embedded Raspberry Pi computer.

Dr Joel Collins, co-creator of the microscope and physics researcher at the University of Bath, said: “We want these microscopes to be used around the world – in schools, in research laboratories, in clinics and in people’s homes, if they want a microscope just to play with. You need to be able to pick it up and use it straight away. You also need it to be affordable.”

To date, over 100 OpenFlexure microscopes have been printed in Tanzania and Kenya, demonstrating the viability of a complex piece of hardware being conceptualised in one part of the world and manufactured elsewhere.  

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Picture Credit | iStock

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