Curiosity-driven Frugal Science


This VIP has two broad goals. First, to explore curiosity-driven scientific questions. Second, to strive to make science, technology, and healthcare accessible to billions of people by inventing frugal tools and techniques. These goals are not mutually exclusive; pursuit of one often leads to insights for the other.

Issues Involved or Addressed

Although information is free to anyone with internet access, there are still many barriers that limit access to scientific tools and healthcare devices. How do we design and build tools and devices that are scientifically rigorous, but cost a few cents on the dollar? Driven by a child-like curiosity and guided by the philosophy of doing "frugal science," we box ourselves in to find out of the box solutions for global challenges in science education, agriculture, and healthcare.

An example of an ongoing project includes asking the question - what is the most efficient actuation mechanism for converting human muscle energy into rotation energy? A parallel question, based on experience in the field, may be - can we build a hand-powered centrifuge that spins at millions of rpm but costs pennies. This may lead to an investigation of children's toys (yotos, buzzers), which often hide complex unintuitive physics that can lead to development of the world's fastest hand-powered centirfuge (20-cent paperfuge:https//

Potential questions we could ask: Can we build a portable gut microbiome analysis tool for studying malnutrition? What is the most efficient way of removing earwax? Can we build an analytical ultracentrifuge by hacking an electrical toothbrush? What is an efficient, scalable way to make artificial clouds? Why are hearing aids so costly? How do some animals generate ultra-stable biological foams? How can transparent nanocellulose paper be exploited for paper diagnostics? Why do we cry - and what's in our tears? How do we develop active nets for either harvesting clean drinking water out of thin air or for keeping mosquitoes out?

Methods and Technologies

  • Paper and PDMS Microfluidics
  • Soft Matter Physics - Experiments and Theory
  • Electronic Hardware Prototyping and PCB Design
  • 3D Printing, Silicone Prototyping, Machining, AutoCAD
  • Optics and Imaging - Designing, Aligning, Callibrating Optical Assembly
  • Microscopy - Imaging and Quantification Analysis
  • Rheology and Complex Flow of Biological Fluids (tears, sweat, blood, stool, urine)
  • Programming: Matlab, Python, Arduino
  • Molecular and Cell Biology - PCR, gel electrophoresis, blotting, DNA microarrays, staining, culturing
  • Fieldwork including real-world testing, need-finding and implementation

Academic Majors of Interest

  • Biology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
  • Chemistry
  • College of Sciences
  • Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Materials Science & Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Physics

Preferred Interests and Preparation

Meeting Schedule & Location






ES&T L1122

Team Advisors

Saad Bhamla