Few scientists know that, instead of buying their lab equipment, they can often build it much more cheaply — and customize their creations — by following ‘open-hardware’ instructions that are freely available online.
Fifty enthusiasts who gathered last week at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, are hoping to remedy researchers’ lack of awareness about open science hardware. At the first conference dedicated to the field, they met to compare creations — and to thrash out a road map to promote the widespread manufacturing and sharing of labware. “We want open hardware to become a normal part of the scientific process,” says Shannon Dosemagen, a co-organizer of the conference who is executive director of the non-profit citizen-science community Public Lab.
Proponents of open hardware — named by analogy to ‘open software’ in computer science — have already created free online designs for dozens of pieces of labware, taking advantage of manufacturing technologies such as 3D printers and laser-cutting machines. They argue that sharing designs for others to adapt can vastly accelerate the progress of science. But this share-all do-it-yourself (DIY) philosophy is yet to become mainstream.