Free Innovation Accelerator!

Open-source scientific hardware is a reality. It gives researchers more freedom to experiment with design and can open new doors in research. What’s stopping you?

By Joshua M. Pearce, Department of Materials Science & Engineering and Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Michigan Technological University.

Ever finished your meal at a fancy restaurant and realized that you’ve forgotten your wallet? I had that same sinking feeling when I saw the price of our first round of heat exchanger prototypes. Our heat exchangers use plastic instead of metal and make up for their relatively weak thermal conductivity with very thin layers between microchannels. The numerical simulations were promising so we wanted to optimize the design and verify experimentally. Sadly, we realized that it was impossible to conduct the comprehensive study needed to drive the innovative technology to market at the prices quoted. Buying a commercial laser welding system was out of the question (budget!) and designing one from scratch was entirely unacceptable (time!). We turned to the free and open source hardware (FOSH) community for a solution. FOSH is publicly available hardware with designs that can be studied, modified, distributed, fabricated, or even commercialized, which I covered in greater detail in the first issue of this magazine.