"I believe that at the moment the concept of 'what is required for science must inevitably be expensive' is disintegrating," says the neuroscientist Tom Baden, who studies how a healthy retina works at the University of Sussex (England). As an example, he mentions the gel comb that is used in microbiology. "This is actually nothing more than a comb, yet it costs 100 euros. You can easily build it yourself." The printing process takes ten minutes, and costs about 10 cents. Using this method, Baden even built a microscope, in collaboration with a colleague, that not only magnifies images, but also allows fluorescence imaging. With FlyPi, as the researchers named their device, certain parts of a specimen can be highlighted by means of different wavelengths. "The FlyPi is simply sensibly usable in my research."
Baden is convinced that developing countries will also benefit from this approach because research efforts there suffer time and time again due to a lack of laboratory equipment. Through his non-government organization "Trend in Africa" Baden regularly delivers courses for young researchers in Africa which teach them to build the equipment themselves. He packs up several single board computers - so-called Raspberry Pis - as well as Arduino control hardware and LEDs, cables and resistors. "And all kinds of 3D printed things." And so it goes.
Thousands of designs are already available at OpenLabware.org. How large is the community using it, Baden cannot say. It is likely significantly larger than the number of users uploading designs. "Many only use the devices, without developing any themselves."