Tag: diy

Product Review: BioTek Microflo liquid dispensing machine

Posted by – December 20, 2009

A couple of pictures of the BioTek Microflo liquid dispenser.

Device with hatch open and spring tension unlocked:

BioTek Microflo cartridge in place

BioTek Microflow cartridge in place. Spring tensioner open. Eight silicone tubes run in parallel, across the pump axle.

Device with hatch open and spring tension locked:

Biotek Microflo with tensioner locked

Biotek Microflo with tensioner locked. Tension is placed across the silicone tube liquid lines. Tension is adjustable with a set screw parallel to each line (screws not shown here, they are vertical and can be seen in a top-down view). The axle rotates clockwise or counterclockwise to move liquid forward or backward with peristaltic action. It is very fast.

This machine has both serial RS-232 and USB; however, the communication link is a proprietary protocol which is only compatible with BioTek’s Microsoft Windows software. The machine is not Unix compatible. So unfortunately, I won’t be using this device in my lab automation setup.

Add Streaming Video to any Bio-lab!

Posted by – October 16, 2009

Combining an inexpensive (under $15) USB webcam with free VLC media player software, it is simple to add password-protected internet streaming video for remote users to any lab.  VLC includes the ability to capture from a local webcam, transcode the video data, and stream the video over the web.  It’s available for OS/X, Unix, Linux, and Microsoft systems.

Hint: Video formats are confusing.  Even video professionals have a tricky time figuring out the standards and compatibility issues.  Today’s web browsers also have limitations in what they can display (mime types and such) — which simply means both sides need to use VLC.  Figuring all this out using the VLC documentation takes some work.  Transcoding the video is required and a proper container must be used to encapsulate both video and audio.  Once debugged, it’s good to go.

Here’s how it worked in the lab:

Webcam for Biotech Lab Automation

See the setup below to get it running.

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HVPS for Systems Biology: A Low Cost, High Voltage Power Supply with Schematics + Board Layout

Posted by – June 22, 2009

I have designed this high voltage, low current power supply for various experiments in systems & synthetic biology. I have cleaned up the design and I am placing the schematic and board layout online below!  This circuit outputs up to +1,866VDC at under 1 mA or can be tapped at various points for +622VDC or +933VDC. This is useful for either DIY Biology or institutional research experiments such as:

  • capillary electrophoresis
  • digital microfluidics using electrowetting-on-dielectric
  • possibly electroporation
  • various electrokinetic experiments, such as dielectrophoresis
  • (other uses?? Let me know)
  • and, lastly of course:  making huge sparks that go PAHHHHH-POP

Below is the schematic; read the full post below for the board layout information.  Click on the schematic for the full sized version.  The schematic operates in stages, so leaving out or bypassing before the 2nd final stage will yield only +933VDC, and leaving out that stage will yield only +622VDC, etc.

Schematic for the HVPS "Tripler1"

Schematic for the HVPS

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DIY Digital Microfluidics for Automating Biology Protocols (sub-microliter droplets)

Posted by – June 3, 2009

Systems biologists and synthetic biologists spend a large amount of time moving small liquids from one vial to another. I would say it makes up the majority of their work day, even in a technologically cutting-edge lab which has robotics.  Strange, isn’t it, that the most advanced biological science labs in the world are dependent on a human physically moving small drops of liquid samples and reagents around a lab?

Microfluidics aims to move liquids without humans, under computer control.  A small flow of DNA in water, for example, might trace a path between two glass plates, within a tiny, etched microchannel.  The movement of the flow is controlled by numerous micro-mechanical valves connected to electronics.

Digital microfluidics aims to move liquids without humans, under computer control, using only single droplets under electrical control: no micro-mechanical valves. It works by using electric fields (electrowetting-on-dielectric properties, abbreviated “EWOD”), which polarize water atoms enough to move a very small water droplet across the surface of a computer board.  Droplets on the board can split into two, or join together into one.

Standard PCB etching techniques can be used to make low-tech digital microfluidics devices

Standard PCB etching techniques can be used to make low-tech digital microfluidics devices

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Make some simple biology lab tools

Posted by – February 3, 2009

Sometimes biology lab tools are really simple, and ridiculously obvious (i.e., a petri dish?).   Yet most of the general public form the idea that biology, chemistry, or even nanotechnology, is impossible because we don’t have high-tech tools. Maybe it’s because the research papers always use big words, half of which are some form of Latin, or the tools are named after a dead guy with a crazy name (erlenmeyer flask anyone?).

Look at some of the tools used in most biology labs for proof.  Cheap office supplies are re-used as laboratory supplies.  Many biology tasks only need the most basic tool for pouring, scraping, mixing, holding, or electrocuting something.  These are easy jobs which only require simple tools.

A few more examples are provided in The Scientist article, Let’s Get Physical -
How to modify your tools to prevent pain at the bench
.   (Free registration might be required to view the article.)

Maybe some of the Makers out there will read this article and Make me something.  (Meredith wants to make something; I need simple lab tools.)

Skunkworks Bioengineering — Prerequisites to Success?

Posted by – November 13, 2008

“Despite all the support and money evident in the projects, there is absolutely no reason this work could not be done in a garage. And all of the parts for these projects are now available from the Registry.” Rob Carlson, iGEM 2008: Surprise — The Future is Here Already, Nov 2008.

The question which should be posed is:

  • What does it really take to actually do this in a garage?

Of course I’m interested in the answer.  I actually want to do this in my garage.

(Let’s ignore the fact for a moment, that many of the iGEM competition projects don’t generate experimental results due to lack of time in the schedule, thus actual project results don’t mirror the project prospectus.)

Here is my short list of what is required:

  • Education (all at university level)
  • Experience
    • 1 year of industry or grad-level engineering lab research & design
    • 1 year of wet lab in synthesis
    • 2 more years of wet lab in synthesis if it’s desired to have a high probability of success on the project (see my SB4.0 notes for where this came from)
  • Equipment
    • Most lab equipment is generally unnecessary, since significant work can be outsourced.
    • Thermocycler
    • Incubator
    • Centrifuge
    • Glassware
    • Example setup: See Making a Biological Counter, Katherine Aull, 2008 (Home bio-lab created for under $500.)
    • Laptop or desktop computer
    • Internet connection
  • Capital
    • About $10k to $20k cash (?) to throw at a problem for outsourced labor, materials, and equipment (this cost decreases on a yearly basis).
  • Time (Work effort)
    • Depends on experience, on the scope of the problem, on project feasibility — of course.
    • 4 to 7 man-months to either obtain a working prototype or scrap the project.

Although some student members of iGEM teams are random majors such as economics or music, somehow I’m not sure they qualify towards the “anyone can do this” mantra.  Of the iGEM competition teams who placed well for their work, all of the members were 3rd year or 4th year undergrads or higher.  The issue isn’t the equipment or ability to outsource — it’s the human capital, the mind-matter, that counts: education and experience.  (Which, in the “I want to DIY my Bio!” crowd, is a rare find.)

With all that covered, it seems anyone can have their very own glowing bacteria.

“Biology is hard, and expensive, and most people trained enough to make a go of it have a lab already — one that pays them to work.”   — Katherine Aull (see above ref.)