World's Fair

I felt bad not putting up the answer to the Puzzle Fantastica in the previous post, so to compensate, I’m prepared to give out the answer to a previous question I had concerning a mysterious looking contraption. In fact, here it is at this link specifically, and as well, it pertains to this picture below.


Basically, it’s an attempt to provide info on how to perform polymerase chain reactions, but on the cheap so to speak. Which involved building your own thermal cycler and fortuitously led to an opportunity to publish the article at MAKE (which BTW has thrilled my engineering colleagues to no end).

Anyway, the issue is out in about a week or so. We still haven’t got it matching the efficiency of a commercially bought machine, but we are sooo close, so close. Besides, a commercially bought PCR machine will run in the $2500 and up category, whereas our MacGyver homage dings in at under $300. In fact, our experimental comparisons have been done with a $7000 machine.

What’s especially interesting is that when first contemplating doing this, it struck me as being an ethical quagmire. I mean, this is the same experiment that can lead to a Huntington’s test for example, maternity/paternity testing, and that’s really much too heavy an insight for a kitchen countertop science experiment. Of course, the MacGyver set-up shouldn’t be used for that sort of thing, first and foremost because it’s just not the sleekest and trouble-free of machines (which you really need when doing that sort of thing), but there you have it – if you know what you’re doing, you could potentially tweak it so that it’s a pretty functional DNA fingerprint system. This is the reason why I got a colleague from Applied Ethics to weigh in and write a little blurb on this nuance.

What I’m hoping, ultimately, is that this project might prove useful for high school scenarios, or perhaps in circumstances where science infrastructure is seriously hurting. I know, for instance, my Nigerian experiences showed that a coveting a PCR machine was like gold, like pirate’s gold.

Anyway, you’d have to buy the magazine if you’re interested in constructing the apparatus, but do check out the supplemental link ( we’ve put up at the SCQ. Starting next week, we’ll also create a post at the SCQ, where updates, tweaks, improvements, etc can be added on a routine basis.

As well, my buddies at Eng Phys are pumped generally. If you got any other ideas to pass along, then that would be wunderbar.


  1. #1 Kurt
    August 17, 2006

    wow. you’re right. that IS so frickin’ cool.