Fluorescence Microscope on a Hacker’s Budget

Some of biology’s most visually striking images come from fluorescence microscopes. Their brilliant colors on black look like a neon sign from an empty highway. A brand new fluorescence microscope is beyond a hacker’s budget and even beyond some labs’, but there are ways to upgrade an entry-level scope for the cost of a few cups of coffee. [Justin Atkin] of The Thought Emporium published a scope hacking video which can also be seen below. He is becoming a reputed scope modder.

This video assumes a couple of things for the $10 price tag. The first premise is that you already have a scope, a camera adapter, and a camera capable of shooting long exposures. The second premise is that you are willing to break the seals and open the scope to make some reversible mods. Since you are reading Hackaday, maybe that is a given.

The premise is simple compared to the build, which is not rocket surgery, the light source from below illuminates the subject like a raver, and the filter removes any light that isn’t spectacular before it gets to the camera.

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Junk Bin Spin Coater uses Modded Case Fan

We’ve all been there: you need a specific tool or gadget to complete a project, but it’s not the kind of thing you necessarily want to fork over normal retail price for. It could be something you’re only going to use once or twice, or maybe you’re not even sure the idea is going to work and don’t want to invest too much money into it. You cast a skeptical towards the ever-growing pile of salvaged parts and wonder…

Inspiration and a dig through the junk bin is precisely how [Nixie] built this very impressive spin coater for use in his ongoing homemade semiconductor project. If you’ve never had first hand experience with a spin coater, don’t worry, not many people have. Put simply, it’s a machine that allows the user to deposit a thin layer of material on a disc by way of centrifugal force. Just place a few drops in the center of the disc, then spin it up fast enough and let physics do the rest.

[Nixie] only needs to spin up a fairly tiny disc, and realized the hub of a 40x40mm brushless case fan was just about the perfect size. A quick pass through the lathe stripped the hub of its blades and faced off the front. Once he found a tube that was the exact same diameter of the fan’s axle, he realized he could even use a small vacuum pump to hold his disc in place. A proper seal is provided by 10 and 16 mm OD o-rings, installed into concentric grooves he machined into the face of the hub.

With a way to draw a vacuum through the hub of the spinner he just needed the pump. As luck would have it, he didn’t have to wait for one to make the journey from China, as he had one of those kicking around his junk bin from a previous project. The only thing he ended up having to buy was the cheap PWM fan controller which he mounted along with the modified fan to a piece of black acrylic; producing a fairly professional looking little piece of lab equipment. Check out the video after the break for a brief demonstration of it in action.

This isn’t the first specialized piece of gear [Nixie] has produced in his quest for DIY chips. We’ve previously covered his DIY tube oven as well as his vacuum chamber complete with magnetically controlled manipulator arm.

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Open Source Laboratory Rocker is Super Smooth

Lab equipment is often expensive, but budgets can be tight and not always up to getting small labs or researchers what they need. That’s why [akshay_d21] designed an Open Source Lab Rocker with a modular tray that uses commonly available hardware and 3D printed parts. The device generates precisely controlled, smooth motion to perform automated mild to moderately aggressive mixing of samples by tilting the attached tray in a see-saw motion. It can accommodate either a beaker or test tubes, but since the tray is modular, different trays can be designed to fit specific needs.

Source code and schematics are available from [akshay_d21]’s Google Drive and the 3D models are also available from the National Institute of Health’s 3D Print Exchange. A demonstration video is embedded below, in which you can see how smooth and controlled the motions are.

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Frozen Rat Kidney Shipping Container

The biggest allure of 3D printing, to us at least, is the ability to make hyper-personalized objects that would otherwise fall through the cracks of our mass-market economy. Take, for instance, the Frozen Rat Kidney Shipping Container, or maybe some of the less bizarro applications in the US National Institute of Health’s 3D Print Exchange.

The Exchange is dominated, at least in terms of sheer numbers, by 3D models of proteins and other biochemical structures. But there are two sections that will appeal to the hacker in you: prosthetics and lab equipment. Indeed, we were sent there after finding a nice model of a tray-agitator that we wanted to use for PCB etching. We haven’t printed one yet, but check out this flexible micropositioner.

While it’s nowhere near as comprehensive a resource as some other 3D printing model sites, the focus on 3D printing for science labs should really help those who have that particular itch to find exactly the right scratcher. Or a tailor-made flexible container for slicing frozen rat kidneys. Whatever you’re into. We don’t judge.

Man with skull image: [jaqtikkun]

3D Printed Magnetic Stirrer Could Hardly be Simpler

If you’ve spent much time in a chemistry or biology lab, you’ve probably seen a magnetic stirrer. This is a little table that you put a beaker on. A little bar (often called a flea or a pill) goes in the solution and spins to stir the beaker’s contents. Simple versions are not that expensive, but nicer ones can cost a bit. [John] decided to build his own using 3D printing and the design is delightfully simple.

The electronics is nothing more than a PC fan, an off-the-shelf fan controller with a display, and a 3D printed bracket with some magnets. The flea is also 3D printed, although we’d probably buy cheap commercial fleas since they are usually coated with Teflon or some other non-reactive substance. Depending on what you are stirring, the reactivity of your 3D printed plastic and its porosity could be a concern. In addition, a commercial flea has a pivot ring that helps it spin smoothly, although we are sure the 3D printed one will work in most cases.

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Optogenetics for 100 Euros

Larval zebrafish, Drosophila (fruit fly), and Caenorhabditis elegans (roundworm) have become key model organisms in modern neuroscience due to their low maintenance costs and easy sharing of genetic strains across labs. However, the purchase of a commercial solution for experiments using these organisms can be quite costly. Enter FlyPi: a low-cost and modular open-source alternative to commercially available options for optogenetic experimentation.

One of the things that larval zebrafish, fruit flies, and roundworms have in common is that scientists can monitor them individually or in groups in a behavioural arena while controlling the activity of select neurons using optogenetic (light-based) or thermogenetic (heat-based) tools.

FlyPi is based on a 3D-printed mainframe, a Raspberry Pi computer, and a high-definition camera system supplemented by Arduino-based optical and thermal control circuits. FlyPi features optional modules for LED-based fluorescence microscopy and optogenetic stimulation as well as a Peltier-based temperature simulator for thermogenetics. The complete version with all modules costs approximately €200 with a layman’s purchasing habits, but for those of us who live on the dark side of eBay or the depths of Taobao, it shouldn’t cost more than €100.

Once assembled, all of the functions of FlyPi can be controlled through a graphical user interface. As an example for how FlyPi can be used, the authors of the paper document its use in a series of “state-of-the-art neurogenetics experiments”, so go check out the recently published open access paper on PLOS. Everything considered the authors hope that the low cost and modular nature, as well as the fully open design of FlyPi, will make it a widely used tool in a range of applications, from the classroom all the way to research labs. Need more lab equipment hacks? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. And while you’re at it, why not take a spin with the RWXBioFuge.

Magnetic Stir Plate is a Hack

If you’ve ever spent any time around a lab, you’ve doubtless seen one of those awesome combination magnetic stirrer and heater plates that scientists use to get liquids mixed and up to temperature. If you’ve ever etched your own PCBs using ammonium persulfate, you’ve experienced the need for both heating and agitation firsthand. Using a stirrer plate for PCB etching is putting two and two together and coming up with four. Which is to say, it’s a good idea that’s not amazingly novel. [acidbourbon] built his own, though, and there’s almost no part of this DIY heater/stirrer that isn’t a hack of some kind or another.

Start off with the temperature controller. Instead of buying a thermocouple or using an LM75 or similar temperature-measurement IC, [acidbourbon] uses a bog-standard 1n4148 diode. The current passed through a diode, at a given voltage, is temperature dependent, which means that adding a resistor and a microcontroller’s ADC yields a quick hacked temperature sensor. [acidbourbon] glued his straight onto the casserole that he uses as an etching tray.

Does the type of person who saves $0.25 by using a diode instead of a temperature sensor go out and buy a stirrer motor? No way. Motor and gears come from a CD-ROM drive. The “fish” — the magnetic bar that spins in the etchant — is made of neodymium magnets lengthened by shrink-wrapping heat-shrinking them together with some capacitors. Who knew that shrinkwrap heat-shrink, fused with pliers, was waterproof? Is that a wall-wart in that box, with the prongs wired to mains electricity?

Anyway, this just goes to show that etching equipment need not be expensive or fancy. And the project also provides a showcase for a bevy of tiny little hacks. And speaking of [acidbourbon]’s projects, this semi-automatic drill press mod has been on our to-do list for two years now. Shame on us! Continue reading “Magnetic Stir Plate is a Hack”