Tag Archives: University College London

Building an open source Atomic Force Microscope

Alice Pyne, a PhD student at University College London, wants to provide schools with cheaper access to expensive imaging capabilities like the ones that allowed her team to capture the first in-water image of the DNA helix structure.

To do so, Pyne and her colleagues are developing a £300 (approximately $480) open source atomic force microscope (AFM) built around 3D-printed parts, Atmel-powered Arduino boards and LEGO bricks. It should be noted that an AFM isn’t exactly a traditional microscope, but rather, should be thought of as a high-resolution type of scanning probe microscopy (or 3D scanner) for imaging, measuring and manipulating matter at the nanoscale level.

“We want to enable children to see biological samples that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see,” Pyne told Wired.co.uk. “What makes [research-grade] AFMs so expensive is that they do a lot of different things and have many different modes. We’re imaging very small areas and doing the simplest type of atomic force microscopy.”

According to Pyne, the prototype microscope currently sits on a metal base, with housings built from LEGO and various 3D component holders, the latter of which is designed to ensure a perfect fit between the LEGO and component. The scanning stage – inspired by research from Bristol University – is also 3D-printed.

“Piezo actuators, components that move when an electric field is applied (or vice versa), were the most expensive part, taking up about half of the entire microscope’s cost,” writes Wired’s Kadhim Shubber. “When 10V is applied, the Arduino-controlled actuators move the scanning stage by just a single micron, allowing for incredible scanning resolution.”

Interested in learning more about the open source AFM? Be sure to check out the original article on Wired.

Video: MakerBot Replicator prints a 3D mechanical clock

Andy Hudson-Smith and his team at the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (University College London) recently used an Atmel-based MakerBot Replicator 2 to print a weight-powered 3D clock.

“There are a number of sites online that provide plans or kits for wooden clocks, often aimed at CNC type machines or simply scroll saw cutting out of the individual cogs. A key site is woodentimes.com, the clock we have printed is a modified version of the Septimus,” Hudson-Smith explained in a University blog post.

“The parts were created in the free version of SketchUp, via a DXF plan and exported to .stl for import into MakerWare. We printed each part out individually to minimize the risk of any printing errors on the replicator [and] added a raft to each cog and printed at 100% to increase the strength of the final print.”

According to Hudson-Smith, each cog took approximately two hours to print, with the frame sections taking three or four. The complete clock – which was printed in four days – runs on an 600g weight and requires winding every 48 hours.

“3D printing opens up any number of possibilities. At the moment it is still slightly experimental and creating the clock was a process of trial of error, especially in terms of the 3D printer settings. The ability to load up SketchUp, model an item and have a 3D printed version in a few hours still fills me with wonder, though,” he added.

As  previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the DIY Maker Movement has used Atmel-powered 3D printers like MakerBot and RepRap for some time now. However, 3D printing recently entered a new and exciting stage in a number of spaces including the medical sphere,architectural arenascience lab and even on the battlefield.

Indeed, as Bloomberg’s Betty Liu notes, the 3D printing industry is projected to be worth a staggering $3 billion by 2016.