We often think of chemistry as precision work that requires beakers, droppers, scales, centrifuges, and Bunsen burners. But what if you could just crank this $5 music box chemistry kit and create science automagically?
Created by Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash to be a “chemistry set for the 21st century,” his unnamed creation reads a punchcard just like a music box or player piano might. Rather than plucking particular pieces of metal to play notes as a music box would, this device releases precise drops of correlating liquids. The idea is that scientists could share complex recipes, with up to 15 chemicals apiece, via what’s essentially easily replicated sheet music. This could, the inventor suggests, be used in anything from testing water for toxins to blood for venom.
At the heart of this custom music box lives a piece of exiting, high-tech chemistry equipment. The mixing itself occurs in what’s called a microfluidics chip–often dubbed a “lab on a chip”–which is a cheap, mass produced piece of silicon that contains tiny valleys in which the drops can blend together accurately.
Prakash’s accomplishment–what he admits is but a v0.1 of what could become a more polished and professional, less toy-like educational product–is creating an inexpensive and reproducible way to run tests on these tiny chips, no computers or biochemistry degrees required. And on top of that, in an age where most problems seem to be solved with an app, the hand crank makes for a charming piece of interaction design, doesn’t it?