open science

Copenhagen Suborbital tests Tycho Deep Space Capsule/LES

Copenhagen Suborbitals, a DIY spaceflight program held tests of their “Beautiful Betty” (formerly named Tycho Deep Space) capsule and Launch Escape System(LES) this morning(4am EST). The purpose of a Launch Escape System is to propel the capsule away from the main rocket in case of an emergency.

The test was an over all succes with the LES igniting properly taking the capsule to about 3000 ft  where the two seperated and the two parachuted safely to the water. However, there were some stabilization issues causing the capsule to tumble and strike the water faster than expected and sustain some damage. The capsule remained intact with no water breaches but Copenhagen Suborbitals still needs to analyze the accelerometer data to see if a human could have survived the launch.

Update: As you can see from the live capture above the balloon uprighting system also failed to deploy and they had to re-right the capsule manually.

Livestream Footage and clips from the Launch

Update2: Helicopter video footage of the launch clearly shows the tumble and the parachutes not fully deploying.

Update3: more footage

Open Science Summit 2011 Videos

The recordings of Open Science Summit 2011 are now available on This year we had a wonderful  of speakers. and I highly recommend watching all the videos if you have the time. But if you have to watch just one, I’d recommend the panel on Open Education and Science Education.

NASA releases API for Open NASA Data

NASA as part of the Open Government Initiative has been opening up their servers, releasing petabytes of data to the public. This past week they made that data easier to access and use by releasing an API.

NASA has a lot of data. For example, just one mission – the NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) – has stored more then 3 petabytes of data since 2005 in a geographically distributed mass storage system. This is the same amount as the estimated total data size of the Library of Congress. EOSDIS is now downloading more than 7,000 GB a week.  Another mission, the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory(@NASA_SDO) receives 1.5 TB of data per day. That’s roughly equivalent to 500,000 mp3s each and every day.

As part of the Open Government Initiative, the agency is working to improve accessibility to this data and incentivizing the use of government data by citizens. In 2010, NASA provided three new datasets and 18 other tools, widgets and catalogs to – but that was just a start. To address the ever-increasing amount of tools and data catalogs that are publicly available on NASA’s many websites, we have created this directory of publicly available datasets. The directory includes information and direct links to more the 500 datasets, and this is just a small beginning. We’ve initially grouped the data into 9 broad categories and have generously used tags to make the directory searchable.

This is great news for both Open Science as a whole and any Citizen Scientists with a little programming know how.

Via NASA Hack Space



Michael Nielsen on Open Science

A brilliant talk by Michael Nielsen explaining some of reasoning behind Open Science. Why the open sharing of knowledge between scientists is necessary. Why the scientific culture of today is preventing those with a desire to be open from sharing. And how we can go about changing the culture to promote the value in openly sharing science.

Also, if you are interested in Open Science, You can read some great articles by Michael on his blog.


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.

Open Call for Open Science Equipment

Outdated Science Equipment (for PCR)

Currently, most of the equipment in “garage” science labs come from auctions, craigslist and what ever people can scavenge.  While occasionally you can find a gem that doesnt break the bank. Most of whats out there is usually outdated, broken or missing manuals. If citizen science is expected to make real discoveries, we need new tools. Specifically tools that are open source and of good design so that they can be built upon and improved by the community. Off the top of my head I can think of only 2 open sourced pieces of equipment that I can go out, buy and be able to use within a week or two, The Pearl Gel Box and the dremelfuge.  There a few more projects in the early stages of production. But overall there is a severe lack of Open Science equipment.  To help get more people thinking and designing we are holding a call for Open Science Design Ideas. And thanks to the support of Ponoko the best idea will receive $50 in credit to make their idea.

To enter an idea be sure to follow the instructions below and email your idea to jacob(at)

  • Describe your idea so a lay person will understand its use.
  • To be picked, idea must be able to be built using Ponoko/sparkfun components
  • Prove that you are capable of completing your idea it i.e. drawings, CADs, Schematics, past work, whatever you think will convince us.
  • Must agree to be licensed under at least a CC BY-NC-SA. If you’d prefer a more open license thats okay too, just let us know.

On Dec 15th we’ll pick the best idea and they’ll recieve the $50 credit to put towards the construction of their idea.  Good luck brainstorming and If you have any questions, please leave a comment.

P.s. Thanks again to Ponoko for supporting this project.