Open Science Design Contest: Orbital Shaker

Open Source Orbital Shaker from jmil .

Jordan Miller brings us the above orbital shaker for his entry to the Open Science Design Idea Contest.  The orbital shaker is a wonderful example of a relatively simple piece of equipment with a large price tag simply because labs will pay it. I’m very pleased Jordan submitted this and have attached his full entry below for those curious to find out how it was put together.

This is an open-source orbital shaker for mammalian cell and tissue culture and for bench-top science. The orbital shaker fits inside a standard 37 ºC/5% CO2 cell incubator and puts out no heat so you can load up the incubator full of these things. We have used them for 2 weeks now and the design is very simple, inexpensive, and scaleable. Our cells are growing happily in these shakers.

Orbital shakers are typically ~$1,500 and even more expensive if you need one that is designed for a cell incubator so that it will not put out any heat (incubators only have heating and not cooling functions, so if equipment puts out too much heat it will kill all the cells in the incubator).

To accomplish this goal I used an arduino microcontroller, Pololu stepper motor controller, and an inexpensive stepper motor. A DC motor could have been used but it is very difficult to control the rotational speed with high accuracy since the DC motor rotation speed varies based on load. Instead I used a $10 stepper motor and a pololu stepper motor controller at 1/16th stepping.

I used a NEMA 17 motor. Lin Engineering 4218L-01-11 works very well. It can do 75 oz-in and has lots of torque so it can be run at 1/16th stepping and at low current without generating any heat.

I used 3D printed parts I designed and printed with a MakerBot to make the off-axis motor connector and bearing plate holder.

Nuts and bolts are used to finish the design.

Stepper motors are known to put out enormous vibrations, so part of the design also required rubber tubing stand-offs which smooth out the motion of the orbital shaker and also dampen all of the motor vibration.

Coding the stepper motor rotational speed was straightforward once we calibrated the correct delay time between motor steps. We typically run the shakers at 2 Hz (2 revolutions per second) but can easily get anywhere from 0.2-5 Hz with the current setup.

Full sources are available on Thingiverse, posted today.

Typical orbital shaker: $1500

Cost Breakdown for Open Source Orbital Shaker:
First shaker minimum requirements to get started:
ATX Power Supply $30
Arduino $30
USB plug and long cable $20
Motor $10
Bearing $1
Tubing $1
Motor controller $40
Wire $4
Nuts and Bolts $5
3D printed parts $0.50
Total: $141.50

Additional shakers, incremental requirements:
Motor $10
Bearing $1
Tubing $1
Motor controller $40
Wire $4
Nuts and Bolts $5
3D printed parts $0.50
Total Incremental cost for each additional shaker: $61.50

Currently we have 4 shakers being driven concurrently with this setup (one set of electronics).

And here (attached) is a video of them working in our incubator!

My design would benefit from winning this contest by being able to design a lasercut case for the electronics and make a kit that could be purchased directly by customers. I would make the 3D printed parts lasercut instead to make production easier.

All of these parts are sourceable from SparkFun and Ponoko. The motor controller I used is not from SparkFun but SparkFun has many that would work for this application, or they may be willing to sell the controller that I am using (from John Yang’s controller is available

This orbital shaker is likely to have numerous applications in bench-top science in addition to in vitro cell culture.

For FULL Instructions and source please check out the Thingiverse page.

To learn more about the Open Science Design Contest and to submit your own idea, click here.

NASA Space Settlement Contest (ages 11-18)

Every year NASA Ames and the National Space Society hold a contest calling for students in 6th to 12th grade to design a space colony. I’d encourage anyone that qualifies to enter this contest. For those that dont qualify, we’ll be happy to publish your designs so you can receive community feedback.

Deadline for Entry: March 15, 2011

More Information, Rules, Prizes, Etc.

Photo from NASA Ames circa 1970(collection)