Getting a Measure on Particulates in Stuttgart

There’s a big to-do going on right now in Germany over particulate-matter air pollution. Stuttgart, Germany’s “motor city” and one of Dante’s seven circles of Hell during rush hour, had the nation’s first-ever air pollution alert last year. Cities are considering banning older diesel cars outright. So far, Stuttgart’s no-driving days have been voluntary, and the change of the seasons has helped a lot as well. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a problem.

But how big is the issue? And where is it localized? Or is particulate pollution localized at all? These questions would benefit from a distributed network of particulate sensors, and the OK Lab in Stuttgart has put together a simple project(translated here) to get a lot of networked sensors out into the wild, on the cheap.

The basic build is an ESP8266 with an SDS011 particulate sensor attached, with a temperature and humidity sensor if you’re feeling fancy. The suggested housing is very clever: two 90° PVC pipe segments to keep the rain out but let the dust in through a small pipe. The firmware that they supply takes care of getting the device online through your home WiFi. Once you have it running, shoot them an e-mail and you’re online. If you want help, swing by the shackspace.

We love these sort of aggregated, citizen-science monitoring projects — especially when they’re designed so that the buy-in is low, both in terms of money spent and difficulty of getting your sensor online. This effort reminds us of Blitzortung, this radiation-monitoring network, or of the 2014 Hackaday-Prize-Winning SATNOGS. While we understand the need for expensive and calibrated equipment, it’s also interesting to see how far one can get with many many more cheap devices.

Microfluidics “Frogger” is a Game Changer for DIY Biology

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See those blue and green dots in the GIF? Those aren’t pixels on an LCD display. Those are actual drops of liquid moving across a special PCB. The fact that the droplets are being manipulated to play a microfluidics game of “Frogger” only makes OpenDrop v 2.0 even cooler.

Lab biology is mainly an exercise in liquid handling – transferring a little of solution X into some of solution Y with a pipette. Manual pipetting is tedious, error prone, and very low throughput, but automated liquid handling workstations run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This makes [Urs Gaudenz]’s “OpenDrop” microfluidics project a potential game changer for the nascent biohacking movement by offering cheap and easy desktop liquid handling.

Details are scarce on the OpenDrop website as to exactly how this works, but diving into the literature cited reveals that the pads on the PCB are driven to high voltages to attract the droplets. The PCB itself is covered with a hydrophobic film – Saran wrap that has been treated with either peanut oil or Rain-X. Moving the droplets is a simple matter of controlling which pads are charged. Splitting drops is possible, as is combining them – witness the “frog” getting run over by the blue car.

There is a lot of cool work being done in microfluidics, and we’re looking forward to see what comes out of this open effort. We’ve covered other open source efforts in microfluidics before, but this one seems so approachable that it’s sure to capture someone’s imagination.

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Fripon is French for Meteorite Hunting

Just a few weeks ago, we reported on a US NASA project to track the path and estimate the size of meteoroids in the sky using a distributed network of a handful of cameras. It turns out that there’s a similar French effort, and it’s even cooler: the Fireball Recovery and InterPlanetary Observation Network (FRIPON). (The name is cute, if the acronym is contrived: a “fripon” is a trickster in French.)

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Open Microfluidics Instrumentation Playset

Micro-what? Microfluidics! It’s the field of dealing with tiny, tiny bits of fluids, and there are some very interesting applications in engineering, biology, and chemistry. [Martin Fischlechner], [Jonathan West], and [Klaus-Peter Zauner] are academic scientists who were working on microfluidics and made their own apparatus, initially because money was tight. Now they’ve stuck to the DIY approach because they can get custom machinery that simply doesn’t exist.

In addition to their collaboration, and to spread the ideas to other labs, they formed DropletKitchen to help advance the state of the art. And you, budding DIY biohacker, can reap the rewards.

In particular, the group is focused on droplet microfluidics. Keeping a biological or chemical reaction confined to its own tiny droplet is like running it inside its own test-tube, but because of the high rate at which the droplets can be pumped out, literally millions of these test-tubes are available. Want to grow hundreds of thousands of single cells, each in their own environment? Done.

The DropletKitchen kit includes an accurate pump system, along with high-speed camera and flash setups to verify that everything’s working as it should. Everything is open-source, and a lot of it is 3D-printable and written in OpenSCAD so that it’s even easy to modify to fit your exact needs. You just need to bring the science.

This is a professional-grade open source project, and we’re excited to see it when academics take a turn toward the open. Bringing cutting edge processing technologies within reach of the biohacker community is a huge multiplier. We can’t wait to see what comes out of this.

Riding Rollercoasters with 3D Printed Kidneys, Passing Stones

Citizen science isn’t limited to the nerd community. When medical professionals get a crazy idea, their options include filling out endless paperwork for human consent forms and grant applications, or hacking something together themselves. When [David Wartinger] noticed that far too many of his patients passed kidney stones while on vacation, riding rollercoasters, he had to test it out.

Without the benefit of his own kidney stones, he did the next best thing: 3D printed a model kidney, collected some urine, and tossed a few stones that he’d collected from patients into the trap. Then he and a colleague rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad sixty times, holding the model in a backpack at kidney height.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Profiling Underwater Light

The goal for the Citizen Science portion of the Hackaday Prize is to empower people to create their own devices to perform their own analyses For [Adam]’s project, he’s designing a device that measures the health of waterways simply by looking at the light availability through the water column. It’s called PULSE, the Profiling Underwater Light SEnsor, and is able to monitor changes that are caused by algal blooms, suspended sediments, or sewer runoff.

The design of PULSE is a small electronic depth charge that can be lowered into a water column from anything between a research vessel to a kayak. On the top of this sinkable tube is a sensor to measure photosynthetically active radiation (PAR). This sensor provides data on light irradiance through the water column and gives a great insight into the health of photosynthesis, marine plant life, and ultimately the health of any aquatic environment.

Measuring the light available for photosynthesis through a water column is great, but PULSE isn’t a one trick pony. On the bottom of the aquatic probe are three sensors designed to measure photosynthesis, dissolved organic matter, and turbidity. These sensors are really just a few LEDs and photodiodes, proving just how much science you can do with simple tools.

The goal of the Citizen Science portion of the Hackaday Prize is to put scientific discovery in the hands of everyone. PULSE is a great example of this: it’s a relatively simple device that can be thrown over the side of a boat, lowered to the bottom or a lake, and hoisted back up again. It’s inexpensive to build, but still provides great data. That’s remarkable, and an excellent example of what we’re looking for in the Hackaday Prize.

Highlights From Robotic Shipwreck Exploration

DIY Research Vessel in use, while ROV is busy below. [Source: NYT]
DIY Research Vessel in use, while ROV is busy below. [Source: NYT]
OpenROV shared the results of their June 2016 underwater expedition to locate and robotically explore the wreck of the S.S. Tahoe, currently sitting at a depth of 150m in Lake Tahoe. Back in 1940 the ship was intentionally scuttled in shallow water, but unexpectedly slid to a much deeper depth. OpenROV used a modified version of their new Trident design to dive all the way down to the wreck and take a good look at things, streaming it over the internet in the process.

We previously covered the DIY research vessel that was designed and created as a floating base station for the ROV while it located and explored the wreck, and now the results are in! The video highlights of the expedition are below, as is a video tour of the ROV used and the modifications required to enable it to operate at 150m.

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