Richard Bowman creates an open-source microscope for diagnosis

The 3D printed microscope frame. Credit Richard Bowman.

Dr Richard Bowman from the Department of Physics, working with collaborators at the University of Cambridge and Tanzanian “digital blacksmiths” STICLab, wants to create much cheaper, open-source devices such as microscopes which can be used for disease diagnosis and scientific research.

The 3-year project, funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund, is testing and refining a prototype general purpose optical microscope made from mass produced lenses, a Raspberry Pi mini-computer and a 3D-printed plastic frame.

The team’s prototype can be cheaply and quickly manufactured on location without large start-up costs.

The team will also be testing the microscope’s potential for automation – programming the microscopes to do more work automatically would free up the time of medics and researchers to do other things until a later stage, and improve consistency.

Another potential advantage is that digitally storing the images of tested samples to keep a record would allow them to be revisited for second opinions, training or further scientific research, which presently isn’t possible after samples are destroyed.