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EPSRC CDT in Sensor Technologies for a Healthy and Sustainable Future


Robotic microscopy for everyone

Consumer electronics and the growing hardware “hacker” movement mean that the sensors, actuators, and microcontrollers to create high-performance instruments are now cheap and readily available.  One of the limiting factors on the performance of DIY instruments is the mechanical assembly to integrate all the components, which must often be positioned with micron precision.  We have shown this is possible using inexpensive 3D printed plastic parts, opening up the possibility of high-performance devices that can be produced in “maker spaces” everywhere from the UK to Tanzania.  This talk will cover the optomechanical engineering needed to make this possible, cover applications that range from malaria diagnostics to optical fibre alignment, and discuss some of the challenges and promises of open-source hardware in science. 

The Openflexure Microscope [1,2] is a highly customisable mechanical and optical design for a microscope, with options ranging from a modified $3 webcam up to oil immersion 100x objective lenses, including beamsplitters for fluorescence and full computer control.  This makes it possible to replace a basic manual microscope with a robotic one, with exciting prospects for medical diagnostic microscopy.  We are currently trialling it in Tanzania as part of a study that aims to recruit thousands of patients to verify its imaging performance and make it possible to apply machine learning to the problem of spotting parasites in micrographs.  Its small size, low power consumption, and cheap components make it ideal for parallelising experiments, and the open-source hardware and software have been designed for ease of customisation and integration into larger systems and instruments.  More general micromanipulation is also possible using 3D printed parts, and I will also present the Openflexure Block Stage [3], a monolithic plastic flexure stage with 2x2x2mm travel, sub-20nm step size, and mechanical performance that comfortably surpasses the requirements of auto-aligning single mode fibre. 

[1]       "A one-piece 3D printed flexure translation stage for open-source microscopy" Sharkey, Foo, Kabla, Baumberg & Bowman, Rev. Sci. Instrum. 87, 025104 (2016);



Richard Bowman

Richard Bowman

WaterScope &
University of Bath

Richard Bowman is a Lecturer and Royal Society URF working on automated microscopy and open source hardware at the University of Bath.  His research group designs hardware and software that can be easily replicated anywhere in the world, with the aim of making high quality automated experimental rigs available to everyone.  Before moving to the University of Bath in 2017 as a Prize Fellow, he worked on holographic optical tweezers for his PhD, supervised by Miles Padgett at the University of Glasgow (2008-12).  He then spent four years working with Jeremy Baumberg in the Nanophotonics group at the Cavendish Laboratory, supported by a Queens’ College Research Fellowship and a Royal Commission 1851 Research Fellowship.  There, he used automated microspectroscopy to characterise many thousands of individual nanostructures in order to get a fuller picture of the range of optical responses present in self-assembled samples.

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