Teaching Science With An Empty Soda Bottle

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.

3 thoughts on “Teaching Science With An Empty Soda Bottle

  1. I love practical re-use of containers and anything that would be discarded, but I am not seeing the particular benefit of using a pop bottle in this instance unless the grant money came from the local cola bottler.

    1. Hi there, I’m one of the makers of this project. You’re right a pop bottle might seem strange, but when thinking of materials that we could adapt that are universal almost everywhere in the world, this was one of the few items that came up which is also durable enough for running simple experiments in. There was no grant money from anyone, we did this project purely for fun and paid for from our own pocket, in our free time. It was made initially to do experiments with and explain our lab science to school children in the community. Alternatively, I designed a version that uses a shoe box (also can be found on the site linked above, boxSCOPE), and no grant money was received for this by shoe makers ;)

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