This year the project got serious. An Atomic Force Microscope is an ambitious thing to make with just a few cheap parts from the electronics market. In it’s third year, our tenacious members just kept at it till they finally made it work! The result is OpenAFM – a not-for-profit startup aimed at sharing the open source AFM for use in schools and wherever it’s needed.

The trip to China itself was also more involved, with one week at the Lifelong Learning Lab at Tsinghua University Beijing, and the second week at Shenzhen, China’s mass-manufacturing centre. Partnerships and visits involved iCentre – Tsinghua’s massive inductrial prototyping facility. In Shenzhen we met up with Szoil – Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, and HAX hardware accelerator.

This year’s project involved Institute of Making members form Electronic Engineering, Physics, Institute of Education, London Centre for Nanotechnology and Architecture amongst others.

See some pictures from the project on our Flickr album.


This year the participants focus on the development of four areas: hardware, software, crowdcrafting and crowdfunding. The aim is to achieve a working open source design for an AFM, that can be downloaded and built by high school students in China and the world over, enabling them to explore materials on a nano scale, and upload their findings to an online database. More data means more knowledge, and low-cost equipment like this, coupled with an open schience and open source approach  means that non-scientists like high school students can get involved in real science.

Read much more about the summer schools on the project website hosted by Open Wisdom Lab, Tsinghua University's creative learning, making and ideas hub.

For live updates, follow #LEGO2NANO


The Institute of Making and the London Centre for Nanotechnology have teamed up with Tsinghua University and Peking University to take on the challenge of developing a new type of low-cost scanning probe microscope with the power to capture images of the nano world. In September 2013, 32 young scientists and designers from China and the UK came together to form four interdisciplinary teams, and faced their first challenge. They competed to build and present a working Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) capable of seeing objects only a millionth of a millimeter in size. In just one week. And with LEGO.

After the exciting experimental week and a nail-biting race to the finish at Tsinghua University, Institute of Making members and their new colleagues in China have been taking the project forward in the MakeSpace, and the LEGO2NANO 2014 aims to refine the winning design to develop an open source AFM that can be built by high school students around the world, making use of LEGO, Arduino, cheap 3D printable parts and local components. Research-grade AFMs typically cost over £60,000 or more, but by using less specific, low cost AFMs, experiments can be carried out across the world, with a far larger amount of collected data shared and compared – the start of an exciting citizen science project.

LEGO2NANO 2014 Programme


The Summer School programme includes intensive making and ideas sessions,  schools, labs and maker space visits. We also host talks and demos from an exciting range of invited guests:

Creative China and Creative Children - Xueqin Jiang

LEGO: Serious Play - Tina Holm Sorensen, LEGO Foundation

LEGO, Nano, AFMs and materials of the future: Pavlo Zubko

Scanning Probe Microscopes for Quantum Physics: Jeroen Elzerman

Tsinghua Creativity and Innovation Pioneers: Luping Xu, Ben Koo, Zhiyong Fu

Tsinghua X-Studio: Wei Zhang

Crowdfunding with Dreammore: Jiyuan Ding

Crowdcrafting: Francois Grey

Chinese Maker Movement in XinCheJian: David Li

UK Maker Movement and the Institute of Making: Ellie Doney