A researcher at the University of Bath is using cheap consumer electronics and 3D printed parts to create high-quality open source scientific and medical devices for developing countries.

“By releasing the designs as free, open-source products we want to enable local entrepreneurs… in some of the poorest areas in the world”


Dr Richard Bowman from the Department of Physics (pictured left) is working with collaborators at the University of Cambridge and Tanzanian company STICLab on a £1m project to create much cheaper, open-source devices such as microscopes that can be used for disease diagnosis and scientific research.

The three-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  low cost Raspberry Pi controller board and a 3D-printed plastic frame costing less than £30.

Open source hardware

The team’s prototype can be cheaply and quickly manufactured on location without large start-up costs. “I think we’re quite used to the idea of open source software, but not necessarily open source hardware. With consumer electronics being so cheap nowadays we can actually get a surprisingly long way and make a high-quality instrument for serious microscopy,” said Dr Bowman, a 50th Anniversary Research Fellow. “By releasing the designs as free, open-source products we want to enable local entrepreneurs to produce the medical and scientific equipment that will improve healthcare, education, and research in some of the poorest areas in the world.”

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.

Dr Bowman is currently looking for a Research Associate to work on the project

Nick Flaherty