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Using Lego to build a nanoscope

Working on AFM

16 September 2013

The world's first low cost Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) has been developed in Beijing by a group of PhD students from UCL, Tsinghua University and Peking University - using Lego.

In the first event of its kind, 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 millimetre in size - far smaller than anything an optical microscope can observe.

Research-grade AFMs typically cost upwards of £50,000, and use custom hardware, however, the newly designed low-cost version could cost just a few hundred pounds 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.

It took just five days for the student team to demonstrate the scanning functionality of their AFM, earning them the award for Best Technical Design.

Photo credit: Woody De-Yu Wang, Toyhouse, Tsinghua University

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Contact Joanna Rooke (London Centre for Nanotechnology) for reproduction queries.