Creating the next generation of scientists and engineers starts by getting kids interested in STEM at an early age, but that’s not always so easy to do. There’s no shortage of games and movies out there to entertain today’s youth, and just throwing a text book at them simply isn’t going to cut it anymore. Modern education needs to be engrossing and hands-on if it’s going to make an impact.
Which is exactly what the Institute of Science and Technology Austria hopes to accomplish with the popSCOPE program. Co-founded by [Dr. Florian Pauler] and [Dr. Robert Beattie], the project uses off-the-shelf hardware, 3D printed parts, and open source software to create an engaging scientific instrument that students can build and use themselves. The idea is to make the experience more personal for the students so they’re not just idle participants sitting in a classroom.
The hardware in use here is quite simple, essentially just a Raspberry Pi Zero W, a camera module, a Pimoroni Blinkt LED module, and a few jumper wires. It all gets bolted to a 3D printed frame, which features a female threaded opening that accepts a standard plastic soda (or pop, depending on your corner of the globe) bottle. You just cut a big opening in the side of the bottle, screw it in, and you’ve saved yourself a whole lot of time by not printing an enclosure.
So what does the gadget do? That obviously comes down to the software it’s running, but out of the box it’s able to do time-lapse photography which can be interesting for biological experiments such as watching seeds sprout. There’s also a set of 3D printable “slides” featuring QR codes, which the popSCOPE software can read to show images and video of real microscope slides. This might seem like cheating, but for younger players it’s a safe and easy way to get them involved.
For older students, or anyone interested in homebrew scientific equipment, the Poseidon project offers a considerably more capable (and complex) digital microscope made with 3D printed parts and the Raspberry Pi.