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HCDE Professor Nadya Peek receives NSF grant to develop open-source hardware for laboratory automation


October 10, 2022

Nadya Peek, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, is the principal investigator on a National Science Foundation award aimed at developing open-source hardware ecosystems for laboratory automation and science and engineering research.

The project is one of 24 supported as part of the National Science Foundation's new Pathways to Enable Open-Source Ecosystems program, designed to support the creation of sustainable, high-impact, open-source ecosystems. In an announcement about this recent $8 million investment, the NSF stated, "This program will ensure more secure open-source products, increased coordination of developer contributions and a more focused route to impactful technologies."

Collaborating with Peek is Lilo Pozzo, a professor in the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science & Engineering. View the project summary below.

Pathways to Open-Source Hardware for Laboratory Automation

Project abstract:
Scientific experiments are highly varied and require deep domain expertise and specialized equipment. Although, laboratory automation increases precision and the efficiency of science experiments, a one-size-fits-all solution does not necessarily exist for science experiments. The Maker Movement has introduced open-source hardware toolkits for computer-controlled tasks, enabling low-cost, customizable, and extensible technologies for automation. These toolkits have so far predominantly been used for digital fabrication applications such as three dimensional (3D) printing. However, these technologies are increasingly customized by scientists for laboratory automation tasks. This project will bring a community of scientists developing and using open-source hardware for laboratory automation together to collaborate on ways of sharing, vetting, and maintaining open source hardware for science and engineering research.

Ecosystems for open-source hardware are less well established than their open-source software counterparts -- this project will provide insight into these nascent communities. This project focuses on open-source hardware that can be produced without relying on centralized production and supply chains. This is of interest as it improves the flexibility with which these technologies can be deployed. The collaboration and co-creation mechanisms that will be developed in the context of this project will be valuable to others facing similar challenges stemming from fabricatable designs, distributed manufacturing, trustworthy hardware, and quality control. This project will lower the barrier to laboratory automation by supporting a community using, developing, and maintaining an ecosystem of open-source modular automation technologies. This resource may increase experimental efficiency/yield, improve reproducibility/repeatability, and accelerate scientific progress across different disciplines. Increased access through lower costs will broaden the application space, enabling a larger number of scientists to take advantage of the precision of automation and enabling automation tools to be included in hands-on educational curricula.