Adventures in Citizen Science: Reagent-grade Enzymes and Open Source Lab Equipment

Oral Presentation

Prepared by E. Campbell1, J. Pearce2, B. Campbell1
1 - NECi Superior Enzymes, 334 Hecla Street, & 217 Calumet St, Lake Linden, MI, 49945, United States
2 - Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology (MOST) Lab - Michigan Technological University, 1400 Townsend Ave, Houghton, MI, 49945, United States

Contact Information:; 906-296-1000


NECi applies biotechnology to the solution of environmental problems, concentrating on applications in analytical chemistry. NECi has developed a series of accurate onsite test kits based on environmentally benign protein reagents in place of hazardous chemicals. Although nitrate kit results are visible to the naked eye, today’s users want a digital readout and portable data. NECi’s customers needed an affordable handheld photometer with a true “optical bench” that works with the company’s unique format onsite test kits for nitrate and phosphate. There had been nothing like this on the market. The Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology (MOST) Lab champions expanding the availability of laboratory equipment through the open source paradigm. With funding via a grant from the National Science Foundation (SBIR/STTR program, award #IIP-1417061), the collaboration developed a freely available open source photometer built around a true optical bench that can be made using a 3-D printer and hobby-level electronics skills (PLOS One, Wittbrodt et al., 2015). NECi took the open source design and created a more sophisticated instrument. The commercial version is dual wavelength, with compatibility for our test kits for nitrate and phosphate determination. NECi’s test kits are designed for users of all skill levels. The specificity of enzyme biochemistry yields sensitive and accurate results, and the photometers make the data digital, portable, and useable in standard spreadsheet software. The photometer design makes it easily adaptable to new protein reagents in the company pipeline. Both NECi and MOST feel strongly that if we are to encourage Citizen Science to assist in protection of environmental quality, they need safe, modern, and affordable tools.