Instruments4Chem

High Performance, Low Cost…

Overview


Instruments4Chem (I4C) designs and builds scientific instruments targeting the needs of schools and universities. While instrumentation underpins most scientific exploration, the high cost of instruments often severely limits their use in these two environments. I4C is addressing this problem by making instrumentation both extremely affordable and accessible. Our goal is to do this without compromising on high standards of performance, to ensure both an excellent user experience and first class experimental results !

You’ll find a suite of instruments described here that have many different applications, both in teaching labs and in research, and particularly in the field of Analytical Chemistry. There’s also a wealth of information about the tools I’ve used, about how the instruments work/what they measure and importantly, lots of performance-proving experimental results from the laboratory. Many of these instruments have been road-tested in high school Chemistry classes and in tertiary-level Instrumental Analysis teaching labs.

Who might benefit ?


Are you looking for a project to learn about and/or teach instrumentation ?

Do you wish to explore a new research area but lack the tools and cannot justify the expense of purchasing a commercial instrument ?

Are you a teacher/educator and need a classroom set of equipment, but budgetary constraints make this prohibitive ?

Need ideas/projects for stimulating STEM activities that integrate science, electronics and computing ?

Would you like to learn how to use and apply various sensors to make high quality scientific measurements ?

If one or more of these scenarios describe your situation, the information on this website will give you a flying head start. As an added bonus, you will discover that high quality instrumentation need not come at a high cost.


What instruments have I developed ?

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Chameleon
A highly adaptable, user-configurable instrument that can be used as a colorimeter, a fluorometer or a nephelometer. This instrument is in kit form and is relatively quick and easy to assemble.
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VODS - A Versatile Optical Detection System
A light source/optical detector pair for mounting into a delrin block and ideal for use in various instruments, including the flow injection analyzer, described next.
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Flow Injection Analyzer
Teamed up with a VODS, this analyzer allows a researcher to perform chemical analysis in flowing streams of liquids. By designing a suitable flow manifold and by using appropriate reagents, sensitive colorimetric analyses are possible for a host of analytes, such as ammonia, nitrate/nitrite and phosphate.
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Firefly - A Chemiluminescence Analyzer
Chemiluminescence (CL) is light produced by a chemical reaction. Luminol CL is used in blood detection by forensic scientists, but the chemistry can be adapted to detect many species. This system acquires data from a photomultiplier tube or solid state detector and also controls a sampling valve for unattended operation.
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Lock-In Amplifier-Based Optical Detection System
This instrumentation drives an LED using square wave modulation and employs phase sensitive detection to capture the resulting modulated signals from a variety of detectors, including photomultiplier tubes and light-to-voltage converters. It is intended for use in demanding low light level applications such as fluorescence.
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Photon Counting, Fluorescence Lifetime Instrument
Incorporates a very short duration, pulsed LED light source and photon counting electronics, using a time-to-digital converter to measure emission lifetimes as short as a few nanoseconds. Other on-board circuitry can capture longer-lived transient events.
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CCD Detector for Spectroscopic Analysis
A signal processing engine for linear CCD image sensors, incorporating circuitry to both clock the CCD detector and read out the video signal. The engine can be used to build a sensitive spectrometer with nanometer spectral resolution for studying LED’s and other light sources, as well as measuring absorption and emission spectra.
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Polarimeter
This instrument measures the optical rotations of chiral molecules and allows study of the kinetics of processes such as the acid hydrolysis of sucrose into fructose and glucose.
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Potentiostat
Useful for a wide range of electrochemistry experiments, including stripping voltammetry, enabling trace quantification (ppb levels) of heavy metal pollutants such as Pb and Cd.
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Impedance Analyzer
Connect an unknown circuit such as RLC configuration and measure its resonant frequency and impedance in the range 10 Hz to 100 kHz. The excitation waveform is automatically swept over a user's target frequency range.
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Picoammeter/Microvoltmeter
A picoammeter/microvoltmeter designed for data logging. Optical sensors such as LED’s, photodiodes and photomultiplier tubes can be directly connected at either of its two current inputs; noise levels are only a few hundred femptoamps. Voltage measurements can also be performed; noise at the lowest data acquisition rates (~6 samples/sec) is only a few microvolts.
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24 bit Data Logger
A multi-channel data logger with a 3V measurement range that is intended for low speed data acquisition, but offering resolution down to a few microvolts.
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2.4 GHz ISM band Spectrum Analyzer
Need to know what traffic is present in the ISM band at 2.4 GHz ? Is a wireless module actually transmitting and is its output on the correct channel ? This spectrum analyzer provides a visual indication of channel activity and signal strength to help answer such questions.
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Microstepped Motion Control System
Using an inexpensive evaluation board and the Propeller chip, this motion control system gives you unprecedented control over stepper motor motion, including a micro-stepping capability at up to 128 microsteps per normal step as well as position, velocity and acceleration information "on-the-fly".
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PICAXE Development Board
This PCB incorporates a 20X2 PICAXE chip and a USB-to-serial interface. It plugs into a protoboard, giving an ideal platform for experimentation. It has been used successfully for a number of high school science projects.
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2D CCD Imaging System
A high end, scientific grade, thermoelectrically-cooled CCD chip and an Altera FPGA board are integrated into a complete imaging system with image capture via a USB interface into LabVIEWTM. It is currently being used for spectroscopy experiments.
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pH Sensor Shield for an XMOS Startkit
This is a shield that plugs into a low cost XMOS Startkit PCB. On-board the shield is a Texas Instruments LMP91200 pH sensor chip and a 16 bit ADC. This allows the user to take accurate pH readings that are compensated against changes in temperature. pH data is captured into a LabVIEWTM front panel.
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XMOS Piezoelectric Micro-pump Controller Shield
An XMOS Startkit shield that drives 2 x Balters MP6 piezoelectric micro pumps, controls a 6-port injection valve and reads light intensity from an optical detector. The micro-pumps can deliver liquids at controlled flow rates from 0.1-5.0 ml/min for flow-injection experiments.
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XMOS Data Acquisition Shield
This shield is designed to interface to various Linear Technology ADC and DAC evaluation boards, such as the DC845A (8/16 channel, 24-bit ADC) and DC579A (8 channel, 16-bit DAC). On-board storage options include 2MB of SRAM and a micro-SD card.
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XMOS Galvanostat Shields (2)
With the addition of a cell and two electrodes, these shields turn an XMOS Startkit into a sensitive, trace metal analyzer.
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Temperature Measurement System
Connect an array of different thermocouples, thermistors and platinum RTD’s directly to this Propeller-based PCB to perform temperature measurements and also log the results to an SD card. The board features an advanced temperature measurement IC, the Linear Technology LTC2983, that has 20 analog input channels configurable under program control to the user’s exact requirements.
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Environmental Water Sampling Device
Part of an on-going research project, this board controls a Balters MP6 micropump that delivers a precisely controlled flow of liquid to a chemical analysis system. On-board are an SD card, a real time clock plus temperature and capacitance sensing capabilities.
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HyperRAM Data Acquisition System
An XMOS shield having an SD card, an 8MB HyperRAM chip and a breakout connector compatible with Linear Technology ADC and DAC evaluation boards for high performance data acquisition.
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Micropump Controller, Flow Rate Measurement and Optical Detection System
A Propeller-based PCB integrating a Balters MP6 micropump controller and a load cell readout system. By connecting an external load cell this becomes an electronic logging balance with milligram resolution. The instrumentation delivers and measures precise flow rates of liquid samples and also has an on board 24 bit ADC to measure signals from an externally connected optical detection system.

Can I Purchase an Instrument ?

Currently, you won’t find an eCart here. From the outset I created this website mainly for educational purposes and also to demonstrate just how much is possible with home-grown scientific instrumentation.

That said, if you’d like to acquire an instrument you’ve seen, feel free to contact me by email - I’ll then work with you, tailoring my capabilities to your expertise, precise needs, budget and timeframe. I do have excellent facilities for doing small quantity production runs but I’m not in a position to hold inventories of assembled instruments.

I’m very keen to network and collaborate with genuinely interested parties to find ways to see my instruments become widely used. For the time being, the best way for me to achieve this is on a collaborative, “build-to-order” basis.

Depending on your skill set/capabilities you are free to use information and ideas you find here as the basis for building your own instruments. Designing and reliably populating printed circuit boards with surface-mounted components is definitely not for everyone. Consequently, I intend to explore various options using third-party vendor(s) to make assembled boards available for purchase at very reasonable cost. Exactly where this might lead remains to be seen - and will depend on the level of interest shown in particular instruments.

In addition, I can provide advice on setting up laboratory programs and providing practical exercises using the instruments described here. I’ve run many workshops both in Australia and overseas where I’ve brought class sets of my instruments to labs to teach Chemistry, Instrumentation and Electronics to both high school and University students/staff. These were always logistically challenging but extremely fulfilling activities !

Finally, I can also provide consultancy services to develop custom instruments. Perhaps you are interested in collaborating on an instrumentation project - if so, then again don’t hesitate to contact me.

Software Downloads ?


Without software, hardware alone can’t do anything useful, and the instruments described here all rely on firmware loaded onto the instrument plus a separate LabVIEWTM front-end, supplied as a run-time executable. I’ve invested considerable time and effort developing firmware and user interfaces for all of my instruments that emphasize ease-of-use - and a big advantage is that this software can be installed and run on your PC without needing any additional licenses (i.e free). Although I’m not providing software downloads for my instruments here, I’ll make them freely available to anyone who obtains an instrument.

Summary


My website explores the use of instrumentation in carrying out science and scientific research, while maintaining a strong educational focus. Designing, building and testing instruments - taking ideas and concepts through to fully functional prototypes is immensely satisfying and my hope is that others will see just how far one can go in making high quality, scientific measurements with home-built gear that costs a tiny fraction of commercial instruments !


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