The Open Hardware Creators in Academia Fellowship was a great opportunity for me and the researchers in my laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to formally explore and implement open hardware concepts in our microscopy development work.

For the last twenty years we have been active in the open source imaging software community but our efforts in the open hardware space have been less formalized and in great need of researching the best practices for our work. While we have been involved in a number of custom microscopy building efforts the dissemination efforts behind these projects largely relied on traditional paper publication which greatly restricts the how the important build process can be shared. When we have tried making our plans available it has been through videos of systems and online part lists that don’t allow other builders to fully observe the build process or share their own adaptions.

We are grateful to the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) for funding and advising on our OpenScan project as a fellow project to allow us to investigate this important problem. Over the last year OSHWA has provide the funding and expert support needed for us to focus on making OpenScan a open source system beyond just the software part. OpenScan is an open source platform for controlling laser scanning microscopes and consists of control software and hardware.

Before receiving the trailblazer award the open source concept in our lab (like most in the imaging community) had largely been applied to the software collecting and analyzing our image data and not the complete system with all the necessary hardware. In our field there was 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 is most cases effectively a black box.

We are very interested in pushing forward in our imaging community the concept of releasing open-source hardware designs using OpenScan as example. Open Source Software has been very impactful in our imaging community (and science overall) but open hardware is still an emerging effort. Lots of groups share drawings of parts but when building complex systems, the efforts have been less. Using the open hardware laser scanning platform known as OpenScan our group over the last year evaluated 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.

As well on a personal note interacting with the many great fellows, mentors and leadership of OSHWA including open hardware perspectives from many different fields has given a bigger perspective on shared challenges between open hardware builds. I’ve enjoyed the many interactions at the in person and virtual OSHWA meetings and hope to stay involved with this community.

Find Kevin’s work

The OHCA Website:


Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation: