Posted August 2, 2022
Innovation in scientific instrumentation is an important aspect of research at UW–Madison, in part due to the efforts of researchers such as Kevin Eliceiri, professor of medical physics and biomedical engineering.
Eliceiri, who is also an investigator for the Morgridge Institute for Research, member of the UW Carbone Cancer Center, associate director of the McPherson Eye Research Institute and director of the Center for Quantitative Cell Imaging, was recently named an Open Hardware Trailblazer Fellow by the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA).
Open hardware refers to the physical tools used to conduct research such as microscopes, and like open software, helps to ensure that scientific knowledge is not just found in research settings, but that it supports the public use of science as is the mission of The Wisconsin Idea.
“Kevin Eliceiri is a pioneer in open source hardware and software design that allows for richer data collection than traditional methods and supports innovative research on campus and around the world,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “Open hardware allows for interdisciplinary collaboration and for a research enterprise to start small and then scale up to meet their needs. Open source hardware is a good investment and holds promise for accelerating innovation.”
The OSHWA fellowship program seeks to raise the profile of existing open hardware work within academia, and encourages research that is accessible, collaborative and respects user freedom.
The one year fellowship, funded by the Open Source Hardware Association,
provides $50,000 and $100,000 grants to individuals like Eliceiri who will then document their experience of making open source hardware to create a library of resources for others to follow. The fellows were chosen by the program’s mentors and an OSHWA board selection committee.
Eliceiri says “There is already widespread community support for making the protocols for any published scientific study open and carefully documented but the hardware used for most experiments whether homebuilt or commercial can often be effectively a black box. In this age of the quest for reproducible quantitative science, the open source concept should be applied to the complete system including hardware, not just the software used to analyze the resulting data.
Universities often try to recover the costs associated with developing new scientific instrumentation through patenting, commercialization and startups. This process works well at times. But for some highly specialized instrumentation, the traditional model can be too time consuming and costly. Thus, some highly useful innovations never reach other labs.
Open hardware and sharing designs for instruments without patenting — as an alternative to the traditional model — is growing in popularity. Three open hardware journals have come of age in the past five years, offering venues to share how to build research instrumentation that can be tweaked for a specific use, instead of starting from scratch.
With open hardware, anyone can replicate or reuse hardware design files for free and this increases the accessibility of hardware tools such as specialized microscopes.
The infrastructure of desktop 3D printers is another example of how open hardware can accelerate and broaden scientific research. The National Institute of Health (NIH)’s 3D Print Exchange is a library designed to advance biomedical research by allowing a researcher to print hardware on site. With local production, there is a reduction in cost and supply chain vulnerabilities.
Since 2000, Eliceiri has been lead investigator of his lab known as the Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation (LOCI), with a research focus developing novel optical imaging methods for investigating cell signaling and cancer progression, and the development of software for multidimensional image analysis. . LOCI has been contributing lead developers to several open-source imaging software packages including FIJI, ImageJ2 and μManager. His open hardware instrumentation efforts involve novel forms of polarization, laser scanning and multiscale imaging.
Using the open hardware laser scanning platform known as OpenScan Elicieri plans to evaluate what are the most relevant best practices from open source software that can be applied to hardware and what are unique open hardware criterion needs that have to be implemented for successful sharing of open hardware .
Eliceiri, a highly cited researcher, has authored more than 260 scientific papers on various aspects of optical imaging, image analysis, cancer and live cell imaging.
Natasha Kassulke, [email protected], 608-219-8042