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Developing low cost vacuum pump to make electron microscope accessible to kids in classrooms

Raised of $5,000 Goal
Funded on 6/17/24
Successfully Funded
  • $5,515
  • 110%
  • Funded
    on 6/17/24

About This Project

This project, part of a larger project at PrakashLab, aims to make scanning electron microscopy (SEM) accessible to classrooms by creating an affordable solution. A key aspect is the development of a low-cost vacuum pump that achieves 0.02 Torr pressure. Through innovative design and cost-effective materials, this initiative seeks to overcome financial barriers. By providing hands-on SEM experience, the project aims to foster scientific curiosity and enhance STEM education.

Ask the Scientists

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What is the context of this research?

The context of this project lies within the overarching goal of democratizing science by making essential tools accessible to all. Similar to the Foldscope initiative pioneered by Professor Manu Prakash, this project aims to empower millions of curious individuals with the means to explore and engage with science. It's a part of a larger movement towards frugal science, where innovative solutions are developed to bridge the gap between scientific curiosity and resource limitations. By providing affordable tools like scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to classrooms, the project seeks to inspire and enable children to delve deeper into scientific exploration, regardless of their background or resources.

What is the significance of this project?

The significance of this project lies in its potential to make scanning electron microscopy (SEM) accessible to a broader audience. An accessible SEM would allow millions more individuals to engage with it from their unique perspectives. With SEM readily available, people from diverse backgrounds can make unique observations and discoveries that may have been overlooked before. This accessibility has the power to unlock a plethora of new discoveries and innovations, as fresh perspectives and ideas are brought to light. By empowering a broader community to tinker with SEM technology, this project has the capacity to catalyze breakthroughs across various scientific disciplines, driving forward our understanding of the world and fostering innovation.

What are the goals of the project?

The goal of this project is to develop an affordable vacuum pump tailored specifically for scanning electron microscopy (SEM) applications. Our aim is to create a vacuum pump priced under $50, capable of achieving a pressure of 0.02 Torr within a chamber size of 1 liter in under 10 minutes. This endeavor seeks to overcome financial barriers and make SEM technology more accessible to educational institutions and enthusiasts, facilitating hands-on learning experiences and advancing scientific exploration.


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A $5000 funding boost would really propel our mission to bring SEM to classrooms. It would help us get the materials we need, conduct testing, and refine our approach. Plus, it would enable us to reach out to more schools, spreading the benefits of SEM to even more students.

The bulk of the funds would be allocated towards extensive testing with various materials and components including laser-cut pieces, 3D-printed components, and various tubing materials. This experimentation is essential for refining our design and ensuring our vacuum pump is both effective and affordable.

Addressing leaks in a vacuum system presents a significant challenge that requires financial resources. Detecting and sealing leaks demands specialized equipment and materials, as well as time for thorough testing and iteration. Allocating funds to this aspect of the project is crucial for ensuring the reliability and performance of our vacuum system as we work towards making SEM accessible in classrooms.

Endorsed by

I am delighted to endorse the project developing a frugal electron microscope. This initiative promises to make advanced scientific tools accessible to students, scientists, and educators. With current electron microscopes being extremely expensive, this project, led by a diverse team of students, post-docs, and professors, aims to democratize access through frugal science and bioinstrumentation. I have high hopes for its success and extend my best wishes to the team. All the best for this transformative endeavor.

Project Timeline

At the outset, we experimented with Syringe vacuum pumps but found them unsuitable for our needs. After exploring different options, we decided on using a peristaltic pump due to its positive displacement mechanism. Currently, we're focused on refining the design and selecting the right materials for the peristaltic pump. This phase involves careful consideration of factors like durability, cost, and compatibility with our requirements.

Jun 11, 2020

Experimentation and evaluation of Syringe vacuum pumps. (3 Torr)

Mar 08, 2023

Selection of the peristaltic pump as the optimal solution.(0.1 Torr)

Feb 13, 2024

Refinement of the peristaltic pump design and material selection.

Jun 02, 2024

Project Launched

Meet the Team

Samir Shaikh
Samir Shaikh

Team Bio

Samir Shaikh is supported by a dedicated team of mentors, Professor Fabian Pease and Professor Manu Prakash. Together, under the mentorship of Professor Pease and Professor Prakash, the team leverages their collective knowledge and expertise to drive forward the mission of making science accessible to all. Their guidance ensures that Samir and the team are equipped with the necessary support and resources to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals in the realm of frugal science.

Samir Shaikh

Samir Shaikh is an undergraduate at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) with a passion for making science accessible. Engaged in frugal science projects, Samir focuses on creating affordable solutions for real-world challenges. From developing low-cost plasma cleaning devices to crafting vacuum pumps for scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Samir's work aims to democratize scientific tools. He also champions street science activities using tools like the Foldscope, spreading scientific curiosity in communities. Follow Samir's journey on Twitter as he continues to make science more inclusive and impactful.

Additional Information

Here are some links to images of the pump. and its results

Project Backers

  • 3Backers
  • 110%Funded
  • $5,515Total Donations
  • $1,838.33Average Donation
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