Furnishing a research lab can be pretty expensive. To combat some of the costs, a team of scientists led by an engineer at Michigan Technological University, Houghton, has published an open-source library of designs that will let researchers slash the cost of one commonly used piece of equipment: the syringe pump.
Syringe pumps are used to dispatch precise amounts of liquid for drug delivery or mixing chemicals in a reaction. They can also cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Joshua Pearce, an associate professor in both the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a team of students published the library of free syringe pump designs, which anyone can construct using a RepRap 3D printer just for the cost of the plastic filament. Even better, they say that the designs are easily customizable. (See Figure 1)
“Not only have we designed a single syringe pump, we’ve designed all future syringe pumps,” said Pearce. “Scientists can customize the design of a pump for exactly what they are doing, just by changing a couple of numbers in the software.”
The library includes recipes for most parts of a syringe pump. Researchers will still have to purchase the small electric stepper motor that drives the liquid, some simple hardware, and the syringe itself, which is inexpensive.
The team went even further, incorporating a low-cost, credit card-sized Raspberry Pi computer as a wireless controller. “That way, you can link the syringe pump to the network, sit on a beach in Hawaii and control your lab,” Pearce said. “Plenty of people can have access, and you can run multiple experiments at the same time. Our entire single-pump system costs only $50 and can replace pumps that run between $250 and $2,500.” While it costs more to make a double-pump system, about $120, he explains that it replaces a commercial system that may cost $5,000. (See Figure 2)
While the designs given are sufficient, Pearce knows that with the breath of knowledge out there, someone will figure out ways to make them even better. “The international scientific open-source lab community is growing rapidly. From UC Berkeley’s Tekla Lab to Sensorica in Montréal and OpenLabTools at the University of Cambridge, we are all working together to make science cheaper, faster and better. I’m sure someone will improve our designs and share their results with us and the rest of the community. That’s the beauty and power of open source,” he said.
Megan Frost, a biomedical engineer at Michigan Tech, uses syringe pumps from Pearce’s library to introduce agents into cell cultures. “What’s beautiful about what Joshua is doing is that it lets us run three or four experiments in parallel, because we can get the equipment for so much less,” she said. “We’d always wanted to run experiments concurrently, but we couldn’t because the syringe pumps cost so much. This has really opened doors for us,” she said.
The hardware plans, designs, and source code for the pumps is available for free at www.appropedia.org/Opensource_syringe_ pump.