About the project

Over the last three years of international student project in Beijing, interdisciplinary teams of university students have developed the Open AFM – an open-source atomic force microscope assembled from cheap, off-the-shelf electronic components, Arduino, Lego and 3D printable or laser cut parts.

The project grew from LEGO2NANO,  an international student project making real science accessible to young people, by developing low cost scientific equipment for schools and beyond.

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The project blog




The 2015 LEGO2NANO challenge is focused on developing a range of innovative imaging and motion-sensitive instruments based on optical pick-up units available in any DVD head.

They might be able to collect various different kinds of data, for example, sound waves or seismic activity.

Aside from the intense, daily making sessions, the programme is packed with trips and visits to local Chinese schools, university labs, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing’s electronics markets, Shenzhen’s Open Innovation Laboratory (SZOIL)  and SEEED Studio. The students will also have daily talks and presentations from international experts on a variety of subjects such as the international maker movement, the Chinese education system, augmented reality and DIY instrumentation.

In 2013, undergraduate and graduate students from UCL’s Institute of Making and the London Centre for Nanotechnology in the UK, teamed up with the Lifelong Learning Lab in Tsinghua University, and the school of microelectronics in Peking University, China.

They attempted to produce cheap atomic force microscopes (AFM) capable of seeing objects a millionth of a millimetre in size. Instead of using light to ‘see’ a sample like normal microscopes, AFMs use technology that ‘feels’ the surface of a material with a probe. The incredible detail at which these AFMs can analyse surface details can be represented in 3D prints and live digital data visualisations.

Partners this year include the LEGO Foundation, MIT Medialab, Academia Sinica Taiwan, and Xin Che Jian Hackerspace in Shanghai.


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Developing low-cost open-source science tools for schools.