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An $80 Open Source Chemical Analyzer

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the great-for-perfecting-that-chili-recipe dept.

Hardware Hacking 51

An anonymous reader writes "A group of electrical engineering students at UCSB teamed up with some chemists and built an $80 gadget that can check water for arsenic, measure the level of vitamin C in orange juice, and also do simple DNA biosensor tests. The electronics in a blood sugar meter could do all of those things, but their firmware isn't easily hackable. All of the circuit schematics, gerber files, and software for this project are available on their project website. Another team at Denver Metro College is working to improve upon their design. Eventually, it could be used as a teaching tool in chemistry classrooms, or possibly to do blood and water tests in developing countries."

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Of all the research to choose from... (4, Insightful)

niftydude (1745144) | more than 3 years ago | (#37395768)

UCSB EE department does a lot of great research. Personally, I'm a big fan of the work that they do in GaN and AlGaN devices. But I feel that this story might be the least interesting piece of research being done at the entire university.

Is this news for nerds just because it is open source? I mean - a potentiostat? Really?

Come on slashdot - lift your game.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (2)

drolli (522659) | more than 3 years ago | (#37396192)

i also find it weird. Potentiostats are standard lab-course projects.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37397038)

Well, I've never heard of them, and I found the article and AVR-GCC source interesting, so... fuck you. If you don't like the article, move on to the next distraction.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37396516)

The short answer is yes. It's news just because it's open source and cheap meaning it can be played with and improved upon. If you have expertise in an area the small stuff doesn't impress you but if you're an outsider who doesn't have access or even deep knowledge of an area then being granted a bit of access to learn and contribute is a powerful thing. It's about broadening the access not deepening it in this case.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (2)

bgat (123664) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398124)

It isn't a completely open source project, as they used a closed-source program to capture the schematic and board layout. EagleCAD is a proprietary program that runs on certain versions of Linux, but the file format is proprietary. The no-cost version of EagleCAD limits the size of the circuit, I haven't checked to see if CheapStat's circuit exceeds that size, or not. Regardless, if you want to modify the circuit then you are either downloading/buying EagleCAD and continuing to lock up your design, or you have to re-capture the schematic in a truly open tool.

gEDA would have been a better tool choice for schematic capture and layout, in my opinion. And the result would have been truly open, as the file formats it uses are documented and text-based. Aside, I have used both EagleCAD and gEDA, and much prefer the latter due to its flexibility and open file format.

It's nice that they provide complete schematics in PNG, however. No complaints there.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1)

dr2chase (653338) | more than 3 years ago | (#37399040)

The circuit looks like it falls in the free zone; I have some cheapo version of eagle ($149 is what I think I paid) that includes minor bells and whistles, and the board is smaller than the ones that I am allowed to build.

It's also not a very complicated board; you could copy that in an afternoon, if you were so motivated.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (4, Informative)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 3 years ago | (#37396788)

Is this news for nerds just because it is open source? I mean - a potentiostat? Really?

What measure is a nerd?

Years ago, I didn't know what "^H^H^H^H^H" meant. (It is, apparently, how one typed a backspace on a rather old type of computer). When I asked what it meant (as it had interested me) I was told by a few kind persons, but I was also chided about not knowing about an obscure computer that was popular before I was born.

Your nerdiness is not my nerdiness. I personally judge whether or not a story is good for Slashdot by the likelihood of seeing it on CNN (when it isn't related to a major event such as a natural disaster or a major product release). Would you see anything like this on the front page of Faux News or even a much more reputable outlet like the BBC? (According to my BBC RSS feed, the answer is firmly in the negative.)

Geek culture is a mysterious, ethereal thing that spans interests of many different types and complexities. Ignore a story about something that doesn't interest you, sure - I don't read 3/4 of the articles Slashdot posts - but please don't chastise them for actually posting something that's relevant to using technology (cheaply!) to do something cool that will actually help people. Strike that last - just using technology to do something cool.

Hey, at least it's not a story about Bitcoin or the latest Apple drivel.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (2)

ZeroExistenZ (721849) | more than 3 years ago | (#37396958)

Years ago, I didn't know what "^H^H^H^H^H" meant. (It is, apparently, how one typed a backspace on a rather old type of computer).

It's nostalgia around old terminal machines. It's an old type of nerd who would appreciate that humor as it clicks with their generation of computer discovery and use. It also establishes a connection amongs the nerds who had the same type of PC usage style and belong to the same "PC Universe".

Your nerdiness is not my nerdiness. I personally judge whether or not a story is good for Slashdot by the likelihood of seeing it on CNN

You are a "young nerd" if I read that. There was a day everything newsworthy and nerdy (deep specialized) would be found first here (now it is watered down and less exclusive I believe). The internet was a bit the back-room hangout were nerds were doing their things and communicating about it. Often in connection with research themselves posting the cool thing they were doing or have done. CNN and other "general information sources" were often mocked and considered inaccurate.

Geek culture is a mysterious, ethereal thing that spans interests of many different types and complexities.

I believe a geek used to be someone with a deep fascination about a subject and spending alot of time going deep into it. Say, the "Nintendo" or "Star wars" cultures.. They unite those who were taken by it. The aspect of being highly appreciative about those things and have this overly nostalgia or focus on it is more likely by "geeks" giving them culture. (I myself am 29, Nintendo is deeply ingrained nostalgia for me)

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37397116)

Actually, the original geek was someone who bit the heads off live chickens in the circus. Way back in Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) time. Don't really know how it came to be applied first to computer aficionados then to any highly specialized field.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 3 years ago | (#37400662)

You are a "young nerd" if I read that.

I'm 25, but I've only had Internets for 6 years. I'd better be classified as a "poor nerd". My first computer was a 199Mhz Pentium... maybe a Pentium 2, don't remember. My second computer was literally built from abandoned parts I found on the street. I learned about computer hardware by salvaging and rebuilding computers, and my dad scrapped the rest.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1)

Peristaltic (650487) | more than 3 years ago | (#37403610)

My first computer was a 199Mhz Pentium...

A Pentium?? When I was a kid, we would have climbed over dead bodies to get a Pentium! We had to walk 2 miles through the snow to time-share on this [retrothing.com] , and we thought we were lucky.

Kids these days.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (3, Interesting)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 3 years ago | (#37397120)

It's not an "obscure computer" It's the very computer you're still typing on

^h = control key + h. The "trick" you probably don't know is that control + character combos are shorthand for ascii control characters. Specifically, the characters a-z correspond to 1-26, and a few off the surrounding keys also map to control characters (there are 32 total control characters)

You will find that, in windows programs like Word, etc, many or all of the combos are trapped, and made to do other things that may be more useful to the user, but in, say, a command window, the ones that make sense there will do what they always did.

It's not relevant to many of your current tasks, but it's not so far obscure that you couldn't even experience it any more. In fact, I use about ten of them every day working with .. an obscure, proprietary program needed for work that apparently was implemented as a terminal program. For instance, It turns out that u,d,l,and r map to the same ascii control characters as the up, down, left, and right arrow keys, and it happens that I hate moving my hands off of the home row if possible.

And.. you know what.. forget everything. It looks like you meant to say, "obscure computer trick," which is pretty true at this point.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 3 years ago | (#37400678)

And.. you know what.. forget everything. It looks like you meant to say, "obscure computer trick," which is pretty true at this point.

No no, the way it was originally explained to me was that it was used on old terminal machines, but I've honestly never heard of it. The oldest OS I've ever used was DOS.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37409530)

Well, those of use not using toy operating systems (read: Windows) still get to use them, and some (probably not many) do so on a regular basis.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37397696)

Years ago, I didn't know w" meant.

Neither do I.

In fact it looks like you forgot the second quotation mark.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398318)

Years ago, I didn't know what "^H^H^H^H^H" meant. (It is, apparently, how one typed a backspace on a rather old type of computer). When I asked what it meant (as it had interested me) I was told by a few kind persons, but I was also chided about not knowing about an obscure computer that was popular before I was born.

Ouch. Don't revel in your ignorance. Unix/Linux isn't "obscure". Neither are DOS/Windows machines.

Open a terminal on your Linux box. Type something. Hit ctrl-h a few times. See how the characters vanish? Neat, huh? There's lots of shortcuts like that.

The reason that ^H became so well known, and not ^U (which is a shortcut I use every day - it erases your entire line of input) is due to the modem days causing the ctrl-h's to appear when people typed backspace some of the time (depending on the settings and lag).

Well, it's sort of an orthogonal issue. There's lots of stories that don't make CNN that aren't appropriate for /. -That said, I agree with what you're saying in spirit - that it's nice that there's a website like Slashdot that will run stories about neat, hackish things like the tricorder-like thing described in TFA.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 3 years ago | (#37400776)

Years ago, I didn't know what "^H^H^H^H^H" meant. (It is, apparently, how one typed a backspace on a rather old type of computer). When I asked what it meant (as it had interested me) I was told by a few kind persons, but I was also chided about not knowing about an obscure computer that was popular before I was born.

Ouch. Don't revel in your ignorance. Unix/Linux isn't "obscure". Neither are DOS/Windows machines.

I explained in a brother post a bit higher up the page, but I recall being told that it was used on pre-DOS terminals. Thinking about that I do suppose that that would be Unix. I've never used Unix though and I've very limited Linux experience.

And I never revel in my ignorance. I'm rather aware of it. Wasn't it Plato who said "I don't know nothing."? *

Open a terminal on your Linux box.

Sorry, I don't have a Linux box. I'd like one, but I'm a heavy gamer and I'm honestly not up for all of the headaches involved with tinkering with drivers or trying to get games to work in WINE. I'd view one as a novelty and/or a more secure machine for things such as banking, but that's about as far as my interest extends. I don't really have the funds to dedicate towards building a spare box to tinker, and I unfortunately don't have the resources to back up and try a dual-boot or something similar on my main rig. I'm rather uncomfortable on doing stuff that I'm quite unfamiliar with on my only (barely) working computer.

The reason that ^H became so well known, and not ^U (which is a shortcut I use every day - it erases your entire line of input) is due to the modem days causing the ctrl-h's to appear when people typed backspace some of the time (depending on the settings and lag).

Well, it's sort of an orthogonal issue. There's lots of stories that don't make CNN that aren't appropriate for /. -That said, I agree with what you're saying in spirit - that it's nice that there's a website like Slashdot that will run stories about neat, hackish things like the tricorder-like thing described in TFA.

That's an interesting bit of history. I haven't used terminal, well, anything other than DOS. I've truly never seen ^H on a computer screen save as a Slashdot post. It's just something outside of my area of interest and expertise.

.

.

.

Disclaimer for the humor deficient: yes, I know it was Socrates, and the quote is "I know that I know nothing".

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1)

blackest_k (761565) | more than 3 years ago | (#37403176)

Your Linux box can be any one of a number of disk images / (including assorted versions of windows) and can run under a few virtual environments, Virtualbox being one. Drivers are not an issue with emulated hardware.

You might even find it interesting or challenging and if you can live without there being a high score you might well find it the best value game you ever played. you can even save your game at any point.

It probably will not too long before you will be getting to grips with windows 8 and having some experience of different ways of doing things will ease the transition.

 

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 3 years ago | (#37405520)

I'd like to echo Blackest's post beneath you.

It really is worth the time learning to use a UNIX system, if you're at all a techie. (Gamer != techie, btw.) It's fun... and educational! Seriously.

You can install a virtual linux box on your windows machine. You don't need a separate box to do it.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37407758)

Others have mentioned virtualisation as a means of running Linux on Windows, but if your computer doesn't have a hypervisor this can be dog slow. Other alternatives are trying out a coLinux [colinux.org] based distro such as TopologiLinux [topologilinux.com] or andLinux [andlinux.org] , coLinux is a modified Linux kernel that runs as a process under Windows, so it is just like running an application on Windows. Another option is using Ubuntu's Wubi installer [ubuntu.com] , the installer runs under Windows, installs to a loopback filesystem (a filesystem stored within a file) and uses the Windows bootloader, so no repartitioning required, and it makes installing and uninstalling Linux as easy as any other program on Windows, this will run a little slower than a regular install due to the loopback filesystem, but for trying Ubuntu it is a good option.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 3 years ago | (#37409898)

Thanks! Interesting stuff.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37404244)

[...]I didn't know what "^H^H^H^H^H" meant. (It is, apparently, how one typed five backspaces on a rather old type of computer)[...]
TFTFY

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37397060)

Um, maybe this story was chosen because the "interesting" research done on GaN and AlGaN semiconductors is 20 years away from anything anyone can actually warm up a soldering iron and play with?

Come down from that ivory tower, there's a bigger world out there.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37397288)

As the research paper says, oodles of cheap potentiostat designs have been available to the public for decades, but this is the first open source design that's good enough to conveniently do biosensor experiments and standard educational labs. A comparable potentiostat would cost $5,000 from a company like DropSens or PalmSens.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37398128)

flamebait

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (3, Insightful)

bgat (123664) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398140)

Is this news for nerds just because it is open source? I mean - a potentiostat? Really?

This one is driven by a microcontroller, which is a nice touch. So, yeah, I think it rates high enough on the nerdiness scale to merit publicity.

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37398794)

You know, some nerds like chemistry. I was a chem major before I was a computer nerd.

Besides, it's an open source gadget that can do interesting things so why not?

Re:Of all the research to choose from... (1)

PerfectionLost (1004287) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398818)

I feel that this story might be the least interesting piece of research being done at the entire university.

Feel free to counter post more interesting examples.

Credit for open sourcing (3, Interesting)

ramk13 (570633) | more than 3 years ago | (#37395782)

What this group should get credit for is open sourcing a cheap design.

The chemistry and circuit design involved are well-established and taught at the undergraduate level. You can easily find schematics for potentiostats online. It's reaching to say that they've built an $80 chemical analyzer, because a lot of prep work and specialized electrodes (platinum!) are needed to run some of these analyses. This is a cheap lab instrument, not something you take out in the field to make measurements. Ruggedizing and standardizing reagent solutions are what would make a field instrument much more expensive.

I'd bet the group didn't make an exaggerated claim, it's the unfortunate nature of science reporting.

Re:Credit for open sourcing (2)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 3 years ago | (#37400684)

because a lot of prep work and specialized electrodes (platinum!) are needed to run some of these analyses

Ah, thanks for the clarification. I'm always on the lookout for a cheap melamine detector, but it looks like I still need to save up for a mass spectrometer.

Teaching schmeaching... (1)

matunos (1587263) | more than 3 years ago | (#37395812)

Can it test for the presence of levamisole? Just asking... for a friend.

Re:Teaching schmeaching... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37396132)

I can say with a fair degree of confidence that's what my friends who go to UCSB are going to use it for.

Re:Teaching schmeaching... (1)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 3 years ago | (#37397190)

*Looking up wikipedia page* *Lots of stuff on de-worming...hmmm, doesn't seem relevant* *adulterant in...ohhhh*

Well, I expect that I also have ...friends who would be interested in such a device

Re:Teaching schmeaching... (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#37399340)

Nose candy is SO 1970s.

Put effort into inventing recreational chemicals that are benign and fun instead of producing those which turn people into hyperactive annoying fucktards.

Also, if the chems are new enough not to be illegal, it's a less prisony endeavor!

Having Sugarbeties... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37395866)

How about finding a way to also calulate more information from a drop of blood than just sugar and or cholesterol? And a cheeper way of making test strips?

Why not a phone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37395918)

Except the sensors, the rest of the hardware functionality can be offloaded to cell phone software. In days of 100$ smart phones that would make it more accessible to people in poorer countries.

what is voltammetry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37395962)

wikipedia URL to help. I'm still not sure what this could do for me. What I want to measure is how much living shit is in the drinking water in east Africa. I'd much rather just find some water, but measuring how bad the little water there is has some value.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltammetry

Then Man made the $80 chemical analyzer (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37396066)

And thus the psychonauts everywhere did rejoice, yea.

companies need a kick up the arse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37396124)

It begs the question why the company that make the blood analyis devices (if there are the same) them in the first place dont do the world a favor and make a software open source that they use and make it available to the likes of bill gate and other well off to get these to countries that need cheap and fast medical diagnosis equipment.
These companies must know of there possible uses!

Everyone is missing the point of the article. . . (5, Insightful)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 3 years ago | (#37396374)

The reason it was published is because it provides an excellent tool for teaching undergraduates about the intricacies of scientific instrument design. It's not ground-breaking, it's not revolutionary, it's simply an experiment to teach sophomores and juniors about voltammetry in a cost-effective way that will hopefully stick with them more than "Here, watch quietly while I use this $75K cyclic voltammeter that we aren't going to let you use because undergrads always screw it up and we can't afford the week it takes to get it calibrated and functioning properly again."

Re:Everyone is missing the point of the article. . (2)

Savantissimo (893682) | more than 3 years ago | (#37397242)

It was done a bit better than most such projects- it had a case, display, mini-control joystick, mini-USB jack, basic software and firmware, they tested it in several experiments beyond the basics - the DNA analysis was particularly slick. More effort should have been given to coming up with a useful set of electrodes and reagents and a proper connection from the instrument to the electrodes - alligator clips are a bit below the standard of the rest of the project.

I'm just an armchair engineer, but I suspect the electronic design could be improved a good deal with modest extra cost. A proper electrometer-grade op-amp, using proper guards/shields on the circuit board for the op-amp inputs, preferably not running the working electrode input through a switch (though I'd have to think harder to see if it's really a problem as they are using it, charge injection could be a worry), better insulation and electrode connections on the cables, using a uC with built-in USB, (perhaps an ARM from STMicro similar price, it also has better ADC and DAC, 32bit, faster clock, more RAM and more flash), and maybe a precision voltage reference and a couple of trim pots. This really isn't suitable as a portable instrument as they were using it, though I suppose some people might do so . As a bench instrument with a computer connection the expensive screen could be dispensed with, and DC-DC converter might be replaced with a simple regulator. The case is big enough to stuff full of batteries, and they give a much longer lasting and less noisy power supply than a single-battery & converter setup for a portable device, and for a bench instrument USB power should be sufficient. The ferrite on the analog ground with the double HF/LF bypass caps is a very good thing, but feeding it through a separate, battery analog supply would be even better.

Re:Everyone is missing the point of the article. . (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37398162)

You are correct, but I wish the developers had also approached the functionality of this teaching tool from its weakness. There are labs that actually use isolated techniques similar to the ascorbate measurement documented in the article. Without additional knowledge the test does not provide any results tied to ascorbic acid. Unless prior knowledge assures that the measurement is only influenced by ascorbic acid, you don't know what it means.

Think of the adulteration of milk products with melamine. By using isolated techniques, the protein content appears excellent.

Potentiometric analysis has its place, but in today's world it can also clearly illustrate some of the pitfalls of bad technique. Students should be challenged to adulterate orange juice to make it appear high in ascorbate. It's easy to do and much more enlightening.

Is WinAVR really required? (1)

Benanov (583592) | more than 3 years ago | (#37397852)

Any Free Software that can compile the device firmware?

Re:Is WinAVR really required? (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398170)

WinAVR is free software, so obviously yes.

Re:Is WinAVR really required? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37401748)

Judging by its name it might not run on a free software operating system. Which is probably why the question was posted.

Re:Is WinAVR really required? (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#37402140)

It's a windows port of gcc/gdb/etc for fuck sake. I'm pretty sure they run on free software operating systems just fine.

to the article bashers : (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37398182)

(ie Those who put in more effort criticizing the article than the writer put into making it)

Quick and easy, food for thought from outside your diet, provoking research into areas of thought beyond the tower you build for yourself. That's what resources like Slashdot are for. Stick with the journals if you want more involved work.

water chemicals (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398756)

Can this show levels of chemicals in water that are relevant for brewing beer? It would be awesome to be able to analyze my own tap water for suitability in homebrewing.

$50 open source neural net sensor (2)

MountainLogic (92466) | more than 3 years ago | (#37399354)

You can get a spayed or neutered open source self-propelled, neural net controlled chemical sensors from the the humane society for about $50. With a little training of the neural network using some bacon and a chew toy it can detect just about anything airborne. Plus you'll have a hard time building anything with a better low end sensitivity. Put out a little food on the back parch and you can likely snag an open source neural net sensor for free. Before acquiring such a sensor unit be sure to check you landlord's sensor policy. Seriously, how we ever made a living while hunting on the savannah with our snoozes is beyond me.

Re:$50 open source neural net sensor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37407836)

Unfortunately the maintenance costs for this sensor are a lot higher than the one in the article and it takes more time to train.

As to how we hunted on the savannah, while our noses aren't that great, our eyes are pretty good, we had good endurance and our brains were much better at tactics than our prey.

but what about computer to read data (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37401904)

doesn't this thing require a computer to read the data ?
and doesn't that drive the cost a little over 1,000

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