Commercial research instruments and instrument-makers are great – science as we know it could not proceed without them. But researchers often push the boundaries of what is possible, and in some cases, commercial instruments are not adequate to test interesting new ideas. To fill the gaps in such cases, some researchers have adopted an “open source” approach to instrumentation, which entails inventing a new instrument, loading parts lists, control code, and assembly and operation instructions into the public domain, and granting explicit permission to users to use and modify the instrument as desired (often in a format that allows collaborative sharing of improvements). The open source approach is thus allowing researchers to adapt their instrumentation to fit their experiments rather than altering their experiments to be compatible with their tools. We in the Wheeler-lab have joined the revolution, and have (to date) released two open-source instruments: Dropbot and DStat.
Dropbot. Digital microfluidics requires an electronic control system that can manage the hot-switching of hundreds to thousands of high-voltage signals to effect droplet movement. Further, for practical use, the system should be able to track droplet positions and velocities, allowing for closed-loop control of droplet behaviour. There is no commercial product on the market that can satisfy this demand; Dropbot is the only system of its kind. Try it yourself – build one and join our growing list of users around the world!
DStat. Potentiostats are electronic control systems used to apply and measure current and voltage with high precision in electrochemistry. There are many potentiostats available commercially for a wide range of applications, but they function as “black boxes,” with limited information about their circuitry and behaviour. To address the needs of users who are integrating electrochemical detectors into microfluidic systems, we recently developed DStat, an open-source potentiostat featuring picoampere-level measurement capabilities, compact and robust form-factor, and intuitive crossplatform software. Build one yourself and let us know how it works for you!