Precise temperature control
The first step to success with PCR is a thermocycler you can depend on to precisely and reliably create the heat block temperature it is programmed for, and conduct this heat through the tube. With such thermal control, the machine can execute any PCR reaction you design; without it, you'll enjoy troubleshooting. The thermal design of the OpenPCR is the most important aspect of the system.
It all begins with the heat block, each individually machined out of a highly thermally conductive alloy of aluminum, and insulated at the sides, to create a uniform temperature across the block, and tight contact with standardized 200 ul PCR tubes. Thermal consistency means differences in reaction results are due to differences of the sample, and not an artifact of the machine. The temperature is measured by an accurate thermistor embedded deeply in the block, and read with 22-bit accuracy.
The heat block is powered by a peltier, which both actively heats and cools the heat block, delivering ramp times of 1 C/s. A microcontroller controls the entire process via a PID algorithm, allowing the heat block to reach and then hold at programmed temperatures quickly and without oscillation.
You carefully prepare your PCR reaction mixture with the right concentrations, but it doesn't always stay that way. When the PCR machine heats up, some of what water inevitably evaporates. The small amount that initially evaporates is inconsequential, but what happens next depends on your machine.
Without a heated lid, that moisture begins to condense at the cooler, top of the tube. Eventually, this process transfers a good deal of water to a large droplet at the top of the tube, at which point your reagent concentrations are greatly effected, and your reaction fails.
The OpenPCR machine features an adjustable-height heated lid, which heats the tops of your tube up to 120 C, preventing any substantial condensation. The adjustable-height lid also places a force on each PCR tube, ensuring adequate thermal contact between the PCR tube and well block. Though condensation can be combatted by placing a layer of mineral oil above your reactions, this extra step is inconvenient and often leads to PCR contamination. The OpenPCR's heated lid helps deliver reproducible PCR results every time.
The OpenPCR is controlled by a GUI application that runs on a Windows or Mac computer, connected via USB. The GUI application makes it easy to program your PCR protocol, including initial and final steps. You don't need to leave your OpenPCR hooked up to your computer however, once you've begun your program, you can disconnect your PC, and the PCR machine will continue to run your reaction. A LCD on the machine displays the reaction status, including the estimated time remaining until the reaction is complete.
The OpenPCR stores the last used program, making it possible to initiate PCR reactions without a PC. This is convenient if you run the same reaction frequently. The GUI software also stores an unlimited amount of PCR protocols.
The device is also controllable via USB via a file system interface, making it easy to integrate into lab automation or external control systems.
A price you can afford
OpenPCR is the lowest-cost PCR thermocycler on the market, and ships worldwide. We had to make some sacrifices to deliver this at our $599 price, but importantly were able to do so without making compromises on the accuracy of the thermal system, and therefore on the results of your PCR reactions.
The main difference between OpenPCR and commercial machines costing up to $10,000 is that OpenPCR has a 16 sample well block, while other machines provide 96. The smaller well block was instrumental in bringing the price down, as it means a physically smaller system, less required heat transfer, less power, and a simpler control system. We thought this was a compromise well worth making, as in our experience many researchers routinely run less than 16 samples for their PCR, and occasional needs above 16 samples can be met with multiple runs or even an additional machine. Obviously if you routinely run high-throughput 96 well plates, OpenPCR is not the machine to you.
The other difference with OpenPCR is it is a kit you build yourself, which saves assembly costs. We did the hard work of the design and finding components that work. We source many components in bulk from around the globe, and do large manufacturing runs of the many custom components (CNC machined parts, power supply, assembled PCB, peltier, heater, thermistor) to provide with you a kit containing all the required components at a low price. And we put substantial work into making the machine easy to put together and the process extremely well documented. But you'll have to put in the final few hours of assembly to bring your OpenPCR to life.