What if you could print your own microscope to save money? WaterScope has designed a 3D-printed microscope for rapid water testing in the field on a budget.
WaterScope is a spin-out from the University of Cambridge that 3D prints microscopes and sells them to anyone that requires low-cost equipment for their project or start-up. The funds will be dedicated to develop and implement a fast method to assess water contamination in underdeveloped countries.
Currently, water testing in the field requires taking the samples to the lab and a 24h period to study bacteria growth. But WaterScope claims it can reduce the process to 1-2h and test on-site without technical training. The method consists in concentrating the bacteria from a water sample, imaging their growth during incubation and sending the results to a server along with GPS coordinates.
The WaterScope is composed of 3D-printed pieces, a few screws and a lens that can be connected to any computer to see the results with webcam software like Skype. You can print the pieces yourself if you have access to a 3D printer. Otherwise, the company sells the pieces for just €55 and uses the money to develop its own water testing method.
The start-up is currently working on improving their image processing techniques to improve sample analysis. The plan is to bring the technology to poor locations and help the thousands of children that die every day from waterborne diseases.
Biotech start-ups may also benefit from the product: access to low-cost equipment can make a big difference for a young company. There are many companies addressing the challenges of water treatment, and water quality monitoring is an essential part of their work. WatchFrog in France, commercializes quality tests using tadpoles that become fluorescent when there are pollutants in the water. ZeroCarbonFootprint, a German strategic alliance between 18 industry and academic partners, is using biotechnology to transform water waste into renewable sources of industrial oils and chemicals.
I think the WaterScope is also perfect for DIY experiments at home or at school with a budget. With cheap and accessible equipment, teaching hands-on science is easier than ever!