DIY Lego Robot Brings Lab Automation to Students

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Stanford researchers design Lego robot kit so students can automate their chemistry experiments

Photo: Lukas Gerber and Ingmar Riedel-Kruse

In an attempt to get robotics-minded kids more interested in life sciences—and vice versa—Stanford researchers have designed DIY robot kits for automating chemistry experiments. Using a Lego Mindstorms EV3 set and some plastic syringes, students can build robots that measure and transfer liquids, automating their their classroom laboratory assignments. Instructions for building the robot were published Tuesday in the journal PloS Biology.

“What’s key for me is that we merge robotics education—which is loved by kids and teachers—and life sciences education,” says Ingmar Riedel-Kruse, a bioengineer at Stanford who led the project. “Learning should be playful. And maybe it’s more fun to engage in chemistry or biology experiments if you do it with a playful robot.”

Riedel-Kruse and his team built the wet-lab bots using inexpensive syringes and a Lego Mindstorms EV3—a US $ 390 Lego set that includes a small programmable computer and several motors, sensors, and connecting cables. The team configured the robot so that it can move a syringe from one test tube to the next, drawing up liquid from one and depositing it into another. The robots can be programmed to pipette measured amounts of liquid down to the microliter scale.

The team tested the robots on groups of elementary, middle, and high school students. The youngest group, a Girl Scout troop with kids ages 10-11, were able to build the simple versions of the wet lab bots with guidance from teachers. High school students built more complex designs, including a robot with a stationary syringe and a moving well plate—a plastic plate with multiple small wells for holding liquids that is a staple in life science laboratories.

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