A challenge called LEGO2NANO to build the world’s first low cost Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) was held in Beijing this month by a group of young researchers including partners of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre at UCL’s London Centre for Nanotechnology and Tsinghua University’s Centre for Nano and Micro Mechanics.
LEGO2NANO brought together students, experienced makers and scientists to take on the challenge of building a cheap and effective AFM, a device able to probe objects only a millionth of a millimeter in size – far smaller than anything an optical microscope can observe. Research-grade AFMs typically cost $100,000 or more, and use custom hardware, however, the newly designed low-cost version could cost less than $500 to produce.
The design brief for the student teams was to build a functional nanoscope, using only LEGO, Arduino microcontrollers, 3D-printed parts and consumer electronics. The event was co-sponsored by the LEGO Foundation, and involved active participation by Chinese high-school students, as potential users of such low-cost science tools. The event was organized by Francois Grey, coordinator of Citizen Cyberscience Centre, in collaboration with Ben Koo of Toyhouse, an educational non-profit based at Tsinghua University, and with the support of the LEGO Foundation.
It took just five days for one of the student teams to demonstrate the scanning functionality of their AFM, earning them the award for Best Technical Design. The students will continue work on their prototypes at UCL’s Institute of Making and the Open Wisdom Laboratory at Tsinghua University. Read more about the results from this challenge on the LEGO2NANO wiki.