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In an effort to advance the cause of citizen science, Michael Wood is offering a total of $400 in prize money to anyone who can produce reliable, low-cost (<$100US) DIY scientific apparatus capable of meeting one of four design objectives:

First, we require a device capable of producing liquid nitrogen at the rate of at least 100mL an hour.

Secondly, we require a vacuum system capable of pumping down a volume of at least 10cm x 10cm x 10cm to, and holding a vacuum at, 0.01 atm (with pressure measurement).

Thirdly, we require the ability to view objects of small scale with up to 1000x magnification.

Finally, we require a functioning oscilloscope, capable of measuring at least two signals at once, and with multimeter capability, accurate in all measurements to within 1%.

Read all the details at Michael’s website.

Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.


  • Ken

    That oscilloscope spec makes no sense. Accurate within 1% of what? And what are the bandwidth requirements?

    With no other information, a freeware sound-card-based oscilloscope program would probably suffice.

  • schumach

    This is a great idea. I’d probably be willing to put up a matching $100 for each of items 1,2,and 4. Maybe other people would as well.

  • Jim

    While the general idea would be interesting, the details are nuts. All 4 devices for 100 bucks? Might all be possible, but then the quality of the instruments will be horrible. vacuum pump with end pressure of 0.00whatever atm: and how much volume can this pump? What is the use if it can suck away just a liter an hour? 1% accurate scope? Accurate to what? Time? No problem, even the cheapest device will suffice. But is it useful? 1000x Microscope? Well, no problem already, glue together 30 $ 100x lens and 15 $ 10x eyepiece, there u go. But so what? What in the world should such an instrument be useful for? U need lighting, a condensor etc. Science can not be done on the cheap, not anymore. And 400 $, lol, that is silly. If I could make all these instruments for that price, I would not need 400 $ from an attention hungry blogger with half baked ideas.

  • St.Eligius

    Dual trace O’scope with multimeter for $100? You probably can go get an old Tektronix from a old Ham’s estate sale cheap, probably wont have DMM. I got mine free.

  • Zee

    It’s about each device for 100$.

    The vacuum pump and the osciloscope have already been solved in the comments at the article!

  • Craig Montuori

    Just a quick correction; his name is Michael Woods, not Wood.

    If anyone has any suggestions about how to set up a proper tax structure to let interested individuals send donations to this cash prize, I’d appreciate it. We didn’t expect the level of interest, and we’re trying to respond to it quickly. Mike’s traveling cross country right now and is a little hard to reach. He’ll be active on the site again on 10/19.

    Also, people have brought up patents; we’re not looking to steal anyone’s work, just to encourage. Any suggestions for how to deal with these concerns?

    The whole point is not to pick up a single something cheap and surplus on eBay or at a garage sale; it’s to design something that could be scaled up such that every household or every schoolchild could have these items. Remember ‘chemistry sets’ as a kid? Mike’s looking for something like this for the modern era.

    I can be reached at montuori (at.) caltech (dot@) edu