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Hardware Hacking Open Source Science Build

An $80 Open Source Chemical Analyzer 51

Posted by Soulskill
from the great-for-perfecting-that-chili-recipe dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A group of electrical engineering students at UCSB teamed up with some chemists and built an $80 gadget that can check water for arsenic, measure the level of vitamin C in orange juice, and also do simple DNA biosensor tests. The electronics in a blood sugar meter could do all of those things, but their firmware isn't easily hackable. All of the circuit schematics, gerber files, and software for this project are available on their project website. Another team at Denver Metro College is working to improve upon their design. Eventually, it could be used as a teaching tool in chemistry classrooms, or possibly to do blood and water tests in developing countries."
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An $80 Open Source Chemical Analyzer

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  • by niftydude (1745144) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @03:47AM (#37395768)
    UCSB EE department does a lot of great research. Personally, I'm a big fan of the work that they do in GaN and AlGaN devices. But I feel that this story might be the least interesting piece of research being done at the entire university.

    Is this news for nerds just because it is open source? I mean - a potentiostat? Really?

    Come on slashdot - lift your game.
    • by drolli (522659)

      i also find it weird. Potentiostats are standard lab-course projects.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Well, I've never heard of them, and I found the article and AVR-GCC source interesting, so... fuck you. If you don't like the article, move on to the next distraction.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The short answer is yes. It's news just because it's open source and cheap meaning it can be played with and improved upon. If you have expertise in an area the small stuff doesn't impress you but if you're an outsider who doesn't have access or even deep knowledge of an area then being granted a bit of access to learn and contribute is a powerful thing. It's about broadening the access not deepening it in this case.

      • by bgat (123664)

        It isn't a completely open source project, as they used a closed-source program to capture the schematic and board layout. EagleCAD is a proprietary program that runs on certain versions of Linux, but the file format is proprietary. The no-cost version of EagleCAD limits the size of the circuit, I haven't checked to see if CheapStat's circuit exceeds that size, or not. Regardless, if you want to modify the circuit then you are either downloading/buying EagleCAD and continuing to lock up your design, or y

        • by dr2chase (653338)

          The circuit looks like it falls in the free zone; I have some cheapo version of eagle ($149 is what I think I paid) that includes minor bells and whistles, and the board is smaller than the ones that I am allowed to build.

          It's also not a very complicated board; you could copy that in an afternoon, if you were so motivated.

    • by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @06:57AM (#37396788)

      Is this news for nerds just because it is open source? I mean - a potentiostat? Really?

      What measure is a nerd?

      Years ago, I didn't know what "^H^H^H^H^H" meant. (It is, apparently, how one typed a backspace on a rather old type of computer). When I asked what it meant (as it had interested me) I was told by a few kind persons, but I was also chided about not knowing about an obscure computer that was popular before I was born.

      Your nerdiness is not my nerdiness. I personally judge whether or not a story is good for Slashdot by the likelihood of seeing it on CNN (when it isn't related to a major event such as a natural disaster or a major product release). Would you see anything like this on the front page of Faux News or even a much more reputable outlet like the BBC? (According to my BBC RSS feed, the answer is firmly in the negative.)

      Geek culture is a mysterious, ethereal thing that spans interests of many different types and complexities. Ignore a story about something that doesn't interest you, sure - I don't read 3/4 of the articles Slashdot posts - but please don't chastise them for actually posting something that's relevant to using technology (cheaply!) to do something cool that will actually help people. Strike that last - just using technology to do something cool.

      Hey, at least it's not a story about Bitcoin or the latest Apple drivel.

      • Years ago, I didn't know what "^H^H^H^H^H" meant. (It is, apparently, how one typed a backspace on a rather old type of computer).

        It's nostalgia around old terminal machines. It's an old type of nerd who would appreciate that humor as it clicks with their generation of computer discovery and use. It also establishes a connection amongs the nerds who had the same type of PC usage style and belong to the same "PC Universe".

        Your nerdiness is not my nerdiness. I personally judge whether or not a story is good f

        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          You are a "young nerd" if I read that.

          I'm 25, but I've only had Internets for 6 years. I'd better be classified as a "poor nerd". My first computer was a 199Mhz Pentium... maybe a Pentium 2, don't remember. My second computer was literally built from abandoned parts I found on the street. I learned about computer hardware by salvaging and rebuilding computers, and my dad scrapped the rest.

          • My first computer was a 199Mhz Pentium...

            A Pentium?? When I was a kid, we would have climbed over dead bodies to get a Pentium! We had to walk 2 miles through the snow to time-share on this [retrothing.com], and we thought we were lucky.

            Kids these days.

      • by zippthorne (748122) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @07:43AM (#37397120) Journal

        It's not an "obscure computer" It's the very computer you're still typing on

        ^h = control key + h. The "trick" you probably don't know is that control + character combos are shorthand for ascii control characters. Specifically, the characters a-z correspond to 1-26, and a few off the surrounding keys also map to control characters (there are 32 total control characters)

        You will find that, in windows programs like Word, etc, many or all of the combos are trapped, and made to do other things that may be more useful to the user, but in, say, a command window, the ones that make sense there will do what they always did.

        It's not relevant to many of your current tasks, but it's not so far obscure that you couldn't even experience it any more. In fact, I use about ten of them every day working with .. an obscure, proprietary program needed for work that apparently was implemented as a terminal program. For instance, It turns out that u,d,l,and r map to the same ascii control characters as the up, down, left, and right arrow keys, and it happens that I hate moving my hands off of the home row if possible.

        And.. you know what.. forget everything. It looks like you meant to say, "obscure computer trick," which is pretty true at this point.

        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          And.. you know what.. forget everything. It looks like you meant to say, "obscure computer trick," which is pretty true at this point.

          No no, the way it was originally explained to me was that it was used on old terminal machines, but I've honestly never heard of it. The oldest OS I've ever used was DOS.

      • by ShakaUVM (157947)

        Years ago, I didn't know what "^H^H^H^H^H" meant. (It is, apparently, how one typed a backspace on a rather old type of computer). When I asked what it meant (as it had interested me) I was told by a few kind persons, but I was also chided about not knowing about an obscure computer that was popular before I was born.

        Ouch. Don't revel in your ignorance. Unix/Linux isn't "obscure". Neither are DOS/Windows machines.

        Open a terminal on your Linux box. Type something. Hit ctrl-h a few times. See how the characte

        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          Years ago, I didn't know what "^H^H^H^H^H" meant. (It is, apparently, how one typed a backspace on a rather old type of computer). When I asked what it meant (as it had interested me) I was told by a few kind persons, but I was also chided about not knowing about an obscure computer that was popular before I was born.

          Ouch. Don't revel in your ignorance. Unix/Linux isn't "obscure". Neither are DOS/Windows machines.

          I explained in a brother post a bit higher up the page, but I recall being told that it was used on pre-DOS terminals. Thinking about that I do suppose that that would be Unix. I've never used Unix though and I've very limited Linux experience.

          And I never revel in my ignorance. I'm rather aware of it. Wasn't it Plato who said "I don't know nothing."? *

          Open a terminal on your Linux box.

          Sorry, I don't have a Linux box. I'd like one, but I'm a heavy gamer and I'm honestly not up for all of the headaches involved with tinkering with drivers or

          • Your Linux box can be any one of a number of disk images / (including assorted versions of windows) and can run under a few virtual environments, Virtualbox being one. Drivers are not an issue with emulated hardware.

            You might even find it interesting or challenging and if you can live without there being a high score you might well find it the best value game you ever played. you can even save your game at any point.

            It probably will not too long before you will be getting to grips with windows 8 and having

          • by ShakaUVM (157947)

            I'd like to echo Blackest's post beneath you.

            It really is worth the time learning to use a UNIX system, if you're at all a techie. (Gamer != techie, btw.) It's fun... and educational! Seriously.

            You can install a virtual linux box on your windows machine. You don't need a separate box to do it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      As the research paper says, oodles of cheap potentiostat designs have been available to the public for decades, but this is the first open source design that's good enough to conveniently do biosensor experiments and standard educational labs. A comparable potentiostat would cost $5,000 from a company like DropSens or PalmSens.

    • by bgat (123664) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @09:46AM (#37398140) Homepage

      Is this news for nerds just because it is open source? I mean - a potentiostat? Really?

      This one is driven by a microcontroller, which is a nice touch. So, yeah, I think it rates high enough on the nerdiness scale to merit publicity.

    • I feel that this story might be the least interesting piece of research being done at the entire university.

      Feel free to counter post more interesting examples.

  • by ramk13 (570633) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @03:48AM (#37395782)

    What this group should get credit for is open sourcing a cheap design.

    The chemistry and circuit design involved are well-established and taught at the undergraduate level. You can easily find schematics for potentiostats online. It's reaching to say that they've built an $80 chemical analyzer, because a lot of prep work and specialized electrodes (platinum!) are needed to run some of these analyses. This is a cheap lab instrument, not something you take out in the field to make measurements. Ruggedizing and standardizing reagent solutions are what would make a field instrument much more expensive.

    I'd bet the group didn't make an exaggerated claim, it's the unfortunate nature of science reporting.

    • because a lot of prep work and specialized electrodes (platinum!) are needed to run some of these analyses

      Ah, thanks for the clarification. I'm always on the lookout for a cheap melamine detector, but it looks like I still need to save up for a mass spectrometer.

  • Can it test for the presence of levamisole? Just asking... for a friend.

    • by gilleain (1310105)

      *Looking up wikipedia page* *Lots of stuff on de-worming...hmmm, doesn't seem relevant* *adulterant in...ohhhh*

      Well, I expect that I also have ...friends who would be interested in such a device

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Nose candy is SO 1970s.

      Put effort into inventing recreational chemicals that are benign and fun instead of producing those which turn people into hyperactive annoying fucktards.

      Also, if the chems are new enough not to be illegal, it's a less prisony endeavor!

  • by MagusSlurpy (592575) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @05:29AM (#37396374) Homepage

    The reason it was published is because it provides an excellent tool for teaching undergraduates about the intricacies of scientific instrument design. It's not ground-breaking, it's not revolutionary, it's simply an experiment to teach sophomores and juniors about voltammetry in a cost-effective way that will hopefully stick with them more than "Here, watch quietly while I use this $75K cyclic voltammeter that we aren't going to let you use because undergrads always screw it up and we can't afford the week it takes to get it calibrated and functioning properly again."

    • It was done a bit better than most such projects- it had a case, display, mini-control joystick, mini-USB jack, basic software and firmware, they tested it in several experiments beyond the basics - the DNA analysis was particularly slick. More effort should have been given to coming up with a useful set of electrodes and reagents and a proper connection from the instrument to the electrodes - alligator clips are a bit below the standard of the rest of the project.

      I'm just an armchair engineer, but I suspec

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You are correct, but I wish the developers had also approached the functionality of this teaching tool from its weakness. There are labs that actually use isolated techniques similar to the ascorbate measurement documented in the article. Without additional knowledge the test does not provide any results tied to ascorbic acid. Unless prior knowledge assures that the measurement is only influenced by ascorbic acid, you don't know what it means.

      Think of the adulteration of milk products with melamine. By u

  • Any Free Software that can compile the device firmware?

  • Can this show levels of chemicals in water that are relevant for brewing beer? It would be awesome to be able to analyze my own tap water for suitability in homebrewing.
  • by MountainLogic (92466) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @11:31AM (#37399354) Homepage
    You can get a spayed or neutered open source self-propelled, neural net controlled chemical sensors from the the humane society for about $50. With a little training of the neural network using some bacon and a chew toy it can detect just about anything airborne. Plus you'll have a hard time building anything with a better low end sensitivity. Put out a little food on the back parch and you can likely snag an open source neural net sensor for free. Before acquiring such a sensor unit be sure to check you landlord's sensor policy. Seriously, how we ever made a living while hunting on the savannah with our snoozes is beyond me.

Man must shape his tools lest they shape him. -- Arthur R. Miller

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