Irnas development facilities and operations are a part of Tkalka, a creative center in the heart of Maribor, co-located with a number of creative organizations and fablab Kreatorlab. Their mission is to strive to apply the vast scientific knowledge to everyday reality by creating effective and affordable systems. They believe in an open-source world and sharing. They aim to empower the world with technologies that improve lives, let that be an advanced communication system or a simple everyday utensil. Irnas is a non-profit, rewarding the ones that create, always exploring new projects and ideas.
To support their full-time work and evolution of projects, they encourage everyone finding their work useful and more importantly being used for profit, to financially support them.
Their work is published under open-source open-hardware licenses, details specified in individual projects. What this means is that you can use hardware, firmware, software and documentation without paying a royalty and knowing that you'll be able to use your version forever. You are also free to make changes but if you share these changes then you need to acknowledge the original source and publish derivatives under the same conditions that you enjoy. The work may be used for any purposes.
Irnas is also kindly asking everyone to support their efforts with donations, if you actively use more then one replication of their systems or it is a part of a process creating revenue. If you would like to manufacture and sell their designs under their original project names, just get in touch with them.
Here's our short interview with the team.
Tell me something about your project?
At Institute IRNAS (http://irnas.eu/), we develop hardware ranging from wireless optical communication systems (http://koruza.net/) to CNC machines (http://goodenoughcnc.eu/), all of them open-source and in February 2016 we also started the biolab project (http://irnas.eu/symbiolab). Joining experience from scientific research, together with our expertise in machine development, we wish to make science available to everyone and thus narrow the gap between research and its public understanding.
Our main bio-related project at the moment is the development of good enough/DIY laboratory equipment. A great many contributions were already made to DIY lab equipment by the amazing and ever growing community of biohackers, DIY biologists and others. The Hackteria network (http://hackteria.org/), the Waag Society (https://www.waag.org/nl), Public Lab (https://publiclab.org/dashboard) to name a few. Also, much of the work can already be found on databases such as Appropedia (http://www.appropedia.org/Open-source_Lab) or the PLOS collections (http://collections.plos.org/open-source-toolkit-hardware). As the community and the collection of equipment grows, however, also a few problems are becoming evident:
- Most databases don't have a structure that is related to its content, thus it is increasingly difficult to find what you need,
- many pieces of equipment were made for a one-time or a very specific use, are not fully developed or (often) poorly documented,
- despite many people adding to the database, certain pieces of equipment are still missing for a fully functional laboratory.
To tackle these issues, we first begun the writing of a comprehensive and easily browsable/searchable labware review, which will be a guide for our own development, as well as a free online resource for those who seek insight in the existing DIY bio-lab projects. The first iteration of the review took approximately 3 months to write and comprises an overview of (almost) all commonly used devices in a biological laboratory, ranging from preparatory equipment, microscopy, spectrometry, chromatography, cell culture, molecular methods and electrophysiological methods. It is fully available on github (https://github.com/symbiolab/bio-labware/blob/master/000_bio-labware_overview.md) and is planned to be extended in the future. We are happy to say, that the community has recognized the value of the review and now also people from other organizations have started to contribute to the github repository.
The second part of the project is the actual development of laboratory equipment and currently we are working on a universal controller for preparatory equipment. This should allow the integration with many different devices and simplify construction of let's say magnetic stirrers, centrifuges, etc.
Who is/are part of this project (people, company etc.)?
Our biolab - symbiolab (http://irnas.eu/symbiolab) is part of Institute IRNAS, an open hardware development laboratory in Maribor, Slovenia, with the mission to apply recent advances in science and technology to open systems and empower individuals worldwide. We work closely with the fablab Kreatorlab (http://www.kreatorlab.si/), where prototypes are created and tested and where often workshops take place. People of different professions contribute to this project in particular, ranging from biologists, electronic and mechanical engineers, economists, etc. All of our team members are still young people, aged between 20 and 30 years.
What are the challenges you encountered?
We were very lucky to get a space at Tkalka (http://tkalka.si/) - a coworking space and now also a co-op in central Maribor. We are able to use the facilities for our own purposes for merely running costs and since the building was once a pharmaceutical research facility, it is relatively easy to build a research lab from an infrastructural as well as bureaucratical point of view. While quite a few parts of the facility require renovation, this can be done in long term, as right now the space is adequate for simple bio-research purposes: simple wet preparation and analysis (microscopy, spectrometry, chromatography).
We obtained many generous donations from local science suppliers, the local university as well as foreign research institutions. In general, however, we are currently financed by the Shuttleworth Foundation (https://shuttleworthfoundation.org/) through a Fellowship awarded to Luka Mustafa - which will cover most operating costs for a period of 15 months and the employment service of Slovenia which covers a part of the staff fees. A lot of research is also done by students of the University of Maribor, which work here as a part of their diploma theses.
The biggest challenges we face at the moment are concerning our future development. We wish the space to operate sustainably on the long term, which will ultimately require more staff and additional funding. The latter we wish to cover with a combination of workshops, research grants and eventually for-profit kits, all of which will require time and effort and we will require a solid business plan by the end of 2016.
What motivates you to create this project?
The DIY community is incredibly creative and stimulating and is a great motivator by itself, but the development of open source projects also has other benefits. Not only does it provide a high moral value for society, it also seems that people are slowly recognizing that patented projects get copied anyway and are often accompanied by unproductive lawsuits. The other great thing with sharing ideas is that people around the world can not only copy, but also thinker and improve your project, making development ultimately faster and better for you. Also, we simply like research and development on its own.
What equipment did you use/are using?
For bio-research purposes we momentarily use donated equipment, such as weighing scales, pH meters, spectrometers, pipettes and stirrers, for the development of our own equipment on the other hand, we use standard electronic components (electronic boards, PCBs, resistors, etc.) as well as rapid prototyping equipment such as CNC laser cutters and 3D printers, many from our own GoodEnoughCNC series (http://goodenoughcnc.eu/).
When did you started this project and when do you think it will be finished/when did you finish it?
The "bio-project" at IRNAS started in February 2016 and currently has funding until June 2017. Within this time we wish to make the biolab sustainable as an open hub for civil science. Considering the development of DIY labware, it also started in February 2016 and the first 3 months were used for writing the review on existing equipment. After the first few chapters were written, the development of the according equipment was initiated - namely preparatory devices. A universal controller is now being developed and should be finished not later than September 2016, also designs for the first prototypes are being developed. We hope to create a series of DIY preparatory equipment by the end of 2016 which we will be available for sale as kits and thus kickstart the development of other equipment.
How do you think your project can help the World?
We believe that the most we can do to help the World is sharing knowledge and giving people the tools to improve their lives on their own.
What are your plans after this project?
The project will ultimately be finished once we have developed a full set of lab equipment that is required for a wide range of bioresearch. When this is complete, we wish to implement the equipment in workshops, where people can learn about science and build and use their own equipment. In addition, we wish to put DIY equipment to the test, comparing the specifications with commercial lab equipment, try to replicate famous experiments and ultimately use our tools for original research. We also want to offer equipment and workshops to schools and universities as a part of an extended educational program.