Sally Tinkle and others (see Nature 503, 463–464; 2013) highlight the importance of open-source software and data sharing in materials science. But researchers should also be developing free and open-source hardware to radically reduce the costs of their experimental work.
Harnessing open-source methodology will ensure that funding used to develop scientific equipment is spent only once. A return on investment is achieved through digital replication of devices for just the cost of the materials required. This scaled replication saves 90–99% on conventional costs, making more scientific equipment available for research and education (see J. M. Pearce Open-Source Lab, Elsevier; 2013).
Dozens of free open-source designs for lab equipment already exist. For example, the University of Washington in Seattle has produced a magnetic rack for molecular and cell-separation applications that can be fabricated with a three-dimensional printer for less than it can be bought commercially. Even if the device is made only once, it justifies the price of the printer. A hand-held open-source colorimeter built in my department for US$50 matches the performance of similar tools that cost more than $2,000. And the University of Cambridge, UK, has developed a microscope for about $800 from open-source plans, to use instead of conventional equivalents costing up to 100 times as much.
Federal funding agencies could join forces to fund open-source scientific hardware to accelerate its development. A free online database of tested and validated tools should be set up, and governments should give preference to funding such hardware purchases.
About this article
Cite this article
Pearce, J. Cut costs with open-source hardware. Nature 505, 618 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/505618d
This article is cited by
Journal of Internet Services and Applications (2017)
The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology (2016)