Tips and tricks for your lab

Has a small change helped you solve a common problem in the lab? Browse tips from your peers or share your own tip.

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Air in the UV detector can be a killer- use the the flow restrictor

The challenge my lab faced: We observed pressure dips when doing protein purification with a LC system. This had a bad impact on the results, and it was difficult for us to interpret the data.

The small thing that we changed: We noticed that this problem occured often when the flow restrictor was removed after the column. Now we never remove it from system! You just have to remember to add back pressure from flow restrictor to the pressure limit of the system to avoid proessure stop.

The impact this had on the lab: No fluctations of the pressure and UV curves.

Avoid air in the size exclusion column!

The challenge my lab faced: We wanted to make sure that no air was introduced into SEC size exclusion chromatography column.

The small thing that we changed: When we connected the column, we let the system pump run slowly, delivering buffer drop to drop.

The impact this had on the lab: By doing this, no air was introduced to the columns when it was connected and we maintained its performance.

Smooth sample application when dealing with larger volumes

The challenge my lab faced: When large volumes of lysate were applied to the chromatography column through the sample pump, aggregated proteins and contaminants were concentrated at the bottom of the beaker and tend to cause high pressure or stop the system.

The small thing that we changed: We started using slow agitation of the sample in the beaker (and here SLOW is important not to damage the sample). .

The impact this had on the lab: No aggregration and preventing high pressure stop to occur!

Re-ordering simplified

The challenge my lab faced: Ordering chemicals and supplies that are having to be restocked in an orderly fashion requires quick cat. no. info and descriptions for forms.

The small thing that we changed: Make an Excel sheet and add the information each time you order with the information needed to reorder. Soon you will have an Excel file with everything your laboratory needs to reorder with ease. This also allows for a quick inventory if you keep up with deletions and additions to the file.

The impact this had on the lab: Saves time looking up the same information each time you need to reorder an item.

Organize PCR tube racks

The challenge my lab faced: Finding inexpensive racks for tiny PCR tubes that can withstand freeze, thaw and not cost the laboratory anything!

The small thing that we changed: Used pipette tip containers made excellent storage racks for our PCR tubes.

The impact this had on the lab: Saved money by recycling used pipette tip boxes, saved time by helping us organize our PCR reaction tubes into freezable boxes!

Quicker balancing of 5 or 7 test tubes

The challenge my lab faced: It is easy to balance 2,3,4,6,8,9,10... tubes in a centrifuge, but 5 or 7 needs an additional tube, with the exact weight. It is even more critical at high speed.

The small thing that we changed: First balance 3 tubes, then balance the other 2 (or 4) tubes independently of the former 3 tubes.

The impact this had on the lab: It shortens the time it takes to add another tube for balance with the exact weight. In addition it saves tubes.

Lower vacuum pressure for more efficient filtration

The challenge my lab faced: I used to try to finish the filtration step of my crystlization sample preparation as quickly as possible by using vacuum pressure levels in excess of 15 cm Hg. However I started noticing that when I was using cellulose and glass fibre filters I wasn’t getting substantially better sample flow rate than at lower pressures. I asked one of our lab’s more experienced chemists why this was and he told me that I was actually altering the retention characteristics of the media at high pressure.

The small thing that we changed: My colleague found that in practice, the flow rate through cellulose and glass fibre filters only tends to increase with increasing differential pressure up to about 5cm Hg and after this point, the flow rate only increases slowly with further increases in differential pressure.

The impact this had on the lab: Now that I consistently filter with a pressure differential in the 5 cm Hg range I no longer feel the need to test several ranges over multiple samples which save me time. I probably also burst my filters about a quarter as much as I used to which saves my lab money!

Multi-layer syringes simplify thick sample preparation

The challenge my lab faced: I work in a food testing lab and the samples that I prepare for HPLC analysis have very high suspended solid content. I use a syringe filter with a single membrane layer to filter the sample; it clogs before I get enough sample for the analysis. I used multiple syringe filters just to get through a single sample. I got past this by using a syringe filter with build in glass microfiber pre-filter layers.

The small thing that we changed: At a trade show I saw that there are filters with built-in glass fiber pre-filtration layers (Whatman GD\/X). With these filters I can filter the whole of the sample volume I need for the analysis using a single syringe filter. I started using this filter and it has been a major time and money saver!.

The impact this had on the lab: I now filter at least three times the volume of sample that I used to with a single syringe filter AND I can do it without putting a lot of thumb pressure on the syringe. I save a couple of minutes preparing each sample which adds up to more samples per day and my thumb doesn’t feel sore at the end of the day!

How to save time in using G-25?

The challenge my lab faced: Usually when we use G25 as desalting column there often exist some problems such as too much times on samples and we need a long time.

The small thing that we changed: Only one thing you can change is to load sample in advance.Just when you see the UV280 is down to the baseline you can load again.

The impact this had on the lab: In this way,you can save one third of time.

Wash, wash... and resuspend everything in the bottle!

The challenge my lab faced: Resuspending a lyophilized powder brings up the issue of losing some amount on the wall and lid.

The small thing that we changed: We do a spin down before opening the sample to collect any powder from the wall or lid to the bottom of the bottle. Then we resuspend the powder with a portion of the volume, and we use the rest of the solution to do successive washings. However, we previously pipette the total volume of resuspension solution into a falcon in order to not get lost in the volume already added.

The impact this had on the lab: With this little tip, resuspension gets more accurate and efficient with less error.

No precipitation in the pump when switching buffers

The challenge my lab faced: When switching from a high salt buffer to a storage solution (e.g., 20 ethanol) on our chromatography system, we noticed that a precipitate sometimes formed, which caused high pressure problems with our pump.

The small thing that we changed: We learned that some salts are less soluble in the ethanol solution, which caused them to precipitate when we switched over from the buffer. Our solution is to now do an intermediate wash of the lines with deionized water BEFORE switching to 20 ethanol. .

The impact this had on the lab: We no longer have a problem with precipitates when we switch from a high salt buffer to the ethanol storage solution. This reduced the incidence of high pressure problems we were experiencing. The system performs the buffer switch very easily so it doesn’t take much more time to work this way.

Take better care of the Superloop

The challenge my lab faced: The Superloop on our labs ÄKTA system kept getting stuck and we actually broke one.

The small thing that we changed: We found that  the seals and glass tubes were getting stuck with residues from samples and buffers that were not flushed out. We now disassemble and clean the  Superloop immediately after use. We always store the Superloop as clean, separated parts, and never in the assembled form.

The impact this had on the lab: We have extended the lifetime of the  Superloop, which saves the lab money by eliminating down time and avoiding replacement costs.

Antibody aliquot storage

The challenge my lab faced: Wrap each aliquot tube (0.5 or 1.5 ml) with parafilm is time consuming.

The small thing that we changed: Use dome cap PCR tube.

The impact this had on the lab: It does not need parafilm. Save freezer storage space.

Avoid chaos on the lab bench and become more efficient

The challenge my lab faced: A poorly organized lab bench is not only frustratin very quickly but also wastes a lot of resources that can actually be used for valuable research.

The small thing that we changed: 1. Get your every day stuff like scissors, forceps, tape, pens and label them with your name 2. Keep pipettes and frequently used tools on the right side (or left you are left handed) 3. Place chemicals, buffers and solutions that you use frequently on the other side. 4. Store less frequently solutions on an upper shelf in front of you so you can easily reach them in case you need them. 5. Have just a minimum of other stuff on the bench so that the middle is empty and a confortable work zone. 6. Dont put your lab journal close to your working area. An empty of e.g. bromphenol blue spilled over it is no fun! .

The impact this had on the lab: Being organized makes everyone work much more efficient and you spend less time running around and searching for stuff. Less distraction equals better research and avoids mistakes

Autoclaving single item is not cost effective and environment friendly

The challenge my lab faced: Even if not an emergency, people used the huge autoclave for just a box a pipette tips randomly. Waste of energy and it occupied the machine for urgent things.

The small thing that we changed: We put a table next to it where all groups can store their labeled stuff and when its close to fill up the autoclave, the last person shuffels the stuff in and starts the cycle.

The impact this had on the lab: Less waste of energy and the autocalve is not blocked continuously.

Reducing Methanol waste with Western Blotting

The challenge my lab faced: Our original SOP specified using Methanol in transfer buffers when blotting with PVDF membranes. This generated a large amount of liquid waste to be disposed of by the Health & Safety department.

The small thing that we changed: Pre-wetting the PVDF membrane in methanol but leaving methanol out of the transfer buffer works equally well in quantitative transfer of proteins from the gel to the membrane.

The impact this had on the lab: This change drastically reduced methanol consumption as well as generation of hazardous waste in the lab, primarily saving time in proper disposal of waste.

Better readings of 96 well plate,

The challenge my lab faced: Bubbles forming in the 96- well plate can dramatically make a difference in values reported (which depends on the assay, for example nitric oxide).

The small thing that we changed: To prevent this from happen, one can perform a low speed spin of the plate to burst the bubbles: we incorporated this step into assay protocol.

The impact this had on the lab: More accurate values and tighter dose response curves and IC50 values.

Finding the lanes in an SDS-PAGE gel

The challenge my lab faced: When people are just learning how to do SDS-PAGE, they often have trouble finding where the lanes are and end up ejecting their sample outside of the well.

The small thing that we changed: We add bromophenol blue to the stacking gel to help us see the lanes. Since there is BPB in the loading buffer, it does not affect the results at all. As the gel runs, the BPB from the stacking gel moves with the BPB from the loading buffer making one straight line.

The impact this had on the lab: It makes it easier for people to find the lanes and load their samples properly and faster.

Updating Organizational System

The challenge my lab faced: I used to spend lots of time running around the lab before each new biology experiment would start. I used to have to look at the materials list and go into the other lab to get glassware and such. It was a big time waster each week when a new experiment would start.

The small thing that we changed: Instead of putting things away by area (such as all of the 250mL beakers in the same place), we decided to put lab materials away by experiment. Then, we placed them in clear bins and labeled the bins by experiment. Then, any leftover equipment went in a hardly used cabinet. We also decided to label the OUTSIDE of the cabinet so we dont have to open every door looking for the piece of equipment that we need.

The impact this had on the lab: LOTS of time saved!

No money for a 96-well plate centrifuge rotor to spin down PCR reagents before a run

The challenge my lab faced: We started running more and more PCRs and graduated from 8-strip tubes to 96-well plates. We were spending a lot of time getting the air bubbles out of the bottoms of the tubes or getting the reagents down the sides of the tubes. With no money to get a new rotor to spin down the reagents before loading the plate on the PCR machine, we had to improvise.

The small thing that we changed: Another lab shared a tip with us. Instead of getting a salad spinner for $40, she said to grab an old pipette tip box punch holes in the sides and string them evenly with string. Make sure youre holding the strings so the tip box is balanced and there is nobody or thing around you, then swing it in a circle!.

The impact this had on the lab: The tip rack with lid holds the 96-well plate so it doesnt turn over as sometimes happens in a salad spinner. Its a fun way to recycle lab junk and gets the temperature sensitive reagents on the PCR machine much faster.

Do the same in less time

The challenge my lab faced: The preparation of agarose at different concentrations is routine in the laboratory, perform calculations about the amount of agarose and buffer takes time but not too much, but at the end of the day can make a big difference.

The small thing that we changed: We made a chart with different percentages of agarose, volume required and the amounts of buffer, thus saving time and space in the tables of work.

The impact this had on the lab: People in the lab perform their gels in less time and avoids delay work

Creating Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) contributes to future incoming students

The challenge my lab faced: My former laboratory is a very big lab with lots of new students coming in and out every semester. So it was very difficult to teach and make students use each instrument properly. The misuse of some instruments reflected in constant damage and early deterioration, with a great financial impact for the lab as most instruments are very expensive in Brazil.

The small thing that we changed: So to face this problem, I started creating Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the instruments that were more frequently used in our lab. Each SOP had a description of the steps that the user should follow to use the instrument. The SOPs created were printed and fixed beside each instrument for quick user reference.

The impact this had on the lab: Students and collaborators started making better use of lab instruments reducing malfunctions and the need to repair constant broken things.

Reuse primary antibodies in western blots

The challenge my lab faced: Antibodies are really expensive, yet they are indispensable in biochemistry/cell biology experiments.

The small thing that we changed: For all western blot experiments, I dilute my primary antibodies in 3 BSA/TBST (TBS buffer with 0.1 Tween20), incubate the membrane with the diluted primary antibody at 4 degree for overnight. The next morning, I save the antibodies and freeze them at -20 degree. To reuse the antibody, I just thaw the antibodies in a beaker of water (at the ambient temperature) and repeat the overnight incubation and the subsequent freezing step. I have freeze/thaw and reuse more than 50 different antibodies many times (usually 8 to 10 times, for some cases, such as actin or tubulin antibodies, I have reused them up to 20 times) before discard them. I would not recommend freezing the antibodies in milk, as milk proteins tend to irreversibly precipitate out from the solution in the first few cycles of freeze/thaw cycles.

The impact this had on the lab: This method definitely cut down the expense on antibodies significantly!

Agrobacterium transformation efficiency

The challenge my lab faced: To increase the efficiency of Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of Arabidopsis and other plant species.

The small thing that we changed: We changed the Agrobacterium strain, instead of LBA4404 we use GV3101 now.

The impact this had on the lab: The efficiency increased more than 50 times. We saved many Petri dishes, media, time... We usually need about 20 independent transformants per transformation event. For this purpose, we plated seeds on about 50 Petri dishes with selective antibiotics. Now, 15 to 20 is sufficient.

refractive index helps to keep reproducibility

The challenge my lab faced: We often work with hygroscopic reagents (ones that absorb water from the air), like acetate salts, for example. When you take the powder of such salt from the shelf you never know how much water did this powder already absorbed. So, you cant calculate molar concentration properly.

The small thing that we changed: We prepare first stock solution from the powder from fresh bottle and measure its refractive index. Refractive index of solution is in direct ratio to its concentration. Next time we prepare solutions from old powder using refractive index of the reference stock.

The impact this had on the lab: This way of preparing stock solutions of hygroscopic salts allows to keep reproducibility from one stock to another, even if the powder has absorbed a lot of water.

Refractive index helps to keep reproducibility

The challenge my lab faced: We often work with hygroscopic reagents (ones that absorb water from the air), like acetate salts, for example. When you take the powder of such salt from the shelf you never know how much water did this powder already absorbed. So, you cant calculate molar concentration properly.

The small thing that we changed: We prepare first stock solution from the powder from fresh bottle and measure its refractive index. Refractive index of solution is in direct ratio to its concentration. Next time we prepare solutions from old powder using refractive index of the reference stock.

The impact this had on the lab: This way of preparing stock solutions of hygroscopic salts allows to keep reproducibility from one stock to another, even if the powder has absorbed a lot of water.

Project organization using gantt chart

The challenge my lab faced: I had to manage 10 different projects, and I needed a solution to have a quick overview on all these projects together. This allowing to comforting ourselves on our time limits, and to see were we are and w here there are challenges that require a perticuliar attention.

The small thing that we changed: Using simple tools (as Excel or open office sheets) I implement a gant chart with all our projects, adding for each of them the main work packages and the expected delays.

The impact this had on the lab: Now, by a simple view we can predict where we are able to have some difficulties, and to make sure that nothing ha been forgotten! A simple sheet can be very reassuring!

Portability

The challenge my lab faced: Traditional tabletop xrf instruments (as well as other instruments ) requires you to bring the sample to it; but there are times when you cannot. Present day relatively smaller portable units can be utilized to solve this problem. Yes, the quality and resolution of the smaller ones can be suspect, but there are those that do step up to the plate.

The small thing that we changed: We purchased a hand held portable XRF unit.

The impact this had on the lab: There were an increased number of bulk material we could analyze. Also, we can now bring our services outside our facility. This has increased our customer base. Obviously the boss is happy and the ROI is very good.

Loading DNA gels

The challenge my lab faced: We do a lot of plasmid cloning and check for inserts using colony PCR of transformants. This can result in dozens of PCR reactions requiring electrophoretic separation to determine which clones contain inserts. Each sample was mixed with DNA loading buffer in a 0.5 ml tube, and this resulted in dozens of tubes being discarded daily. There must be a better way!

The small thing that we changed: Instead of using tubes, we cut a 20 mm piece of Parafilm, place it on an Eppendorf tube rack and gently press into the holes with gloved fingers. This creates a number of depressions that are perfect for holding PCR reactions while you add DNA loading buffer, pipette up and down to mix, then place the mixture into the wells of your agarose gels. Works like a charm, is cheap, and the Parafilm doesnt absorb the DNA or loading buffer.

The impact this had on the lab: This has drastically cut down on the 0.5 ml tubes we use as well as the time involved in preparing PCR reactions for electrophoresis, facilitating time management, our supply budget and the environment.

Saving cost on media filtration units

The challenge my lab faced: Each filtration unit (top filter + bottom bottle) can be used once so we have to use a single filtration unit every time to filter media. That was costing a lot of money.

The small thing that we changed: We bought the separate 250 ml filtration units (only the top) from one manufacturer and then purchased the sterile big bottles (1000 ml) that are compatible and way cheaper, from another supplier. By this, we can use the 250 ml bottle filter to filter at least a 1000 ml or even more by changing the media bottles by only using the same filter.

The impact this had on the lab: We use many filtration units each week for media filtration. By doing this, we could save more money by using the same filter and numerous bottles.

Solid broth

The challenge my lab faced: Every time I need to prepare solid broth for bacteria culture, after it comes out of the autoclave, it has to be poured into the plates because it becomes solid at room temperature. This way I need to prepare the number of plates I will use or make more than I will use and keep the excess in the refrigerator.

The small thing that we changed: In order to solve my problem I prepare 500 or 1000 mL of solid broth in bottles and after it comes out of the autoclave I keep them in a cabinet in room temperature. When I decide prepare the plates I melt the broth in a microwave oven, pour into the plates I will use that day and keep the rest of the broth in the bottle to use during the week.

The impact this had on the lab: The impact is that I spend less time and chemicals preparing plates. I prepare the culture broth just once a week and every time I need plates I prepare exactly the number of plates I will use and I am free to use the same prepared broth to make plates supplemented with different things.

Accurate qRT-PCR

The challenge my lab faced: Developing qRT-PCR with low grade expression mRNA is complex and usually the resulting data have a high variability. In our lab, thats a common problem that carried to use more sample for each meassure, something that is not always possible.

The small thing that we changed: The accuratelly of a qRT-PCR depends in great part of the micropipete, taking 1ul of sample as is ussually done increase the error. To avoid that we make two mix for qRT-PCR: one with primers and mastermix, and the other with cDNA sample and the water needed in order to complete the 20ul reaction volume. This way we increase the volume that is taking as sample minimizing the error.

The impact this had on the lab: With this tip we reduce the number of sample needed to validate results as a consecuence of the reduction of the pipeting error.

System with pipet tip usage

The challenge my lab faced: This may be merely common sense, but I deal with UG students in the lab and when it comes to pipetting translucent samples into a 96-well plate, a distraction (or forgetfulness) could easily mess up the pipetting process, which could ruin the experiment and waste reagents.

The small thing that we changed: Our system is to do Left-to-Right, Top-to-Bottom of using taking pipet tips from the box. If the person gets distracted by someone or something, the person could easily track the translucent samples that have been dispensed on the 96-well plate by looking at the tip box and counting the tips that have been used.

The impact this had on the lab: We minimized mistakes and reagent wastes. I know that nowadays some reagents have dyes to make things easy to track, but if you are using a translucent reagent, then this system helps a lot.

Waiting for samples to heat/snap cool prior to capillary electrophoresis

The challenge my lab faced: Prior to capillary electrophoresis, its necessary to heat the samples to 95C and snap cool. We perform the step on a thermocycler, and it takes a while for it to reach 95C to begin the process.

The small thing that we changed: To save time, we start to heat the thermocycler to 95C while we prepare samples. It may not be much, but it reduces frustration when we dont have to just stand around and watch the instrument heat!.

The impact this had on the lab: Doing this speeds up the process and reduces the frustration of having to stand around waiting before you can move on to the next experiment.

Reagent deterioration

The challenge my lab faced: We had fluctuating creatinine qc results, and the reagent was stored at room temp - manufacture stated ok to leave on board in a refrigerant environment.

The small thing that we changed: We removed reagent after 8 hours, and replaced when testing resumed.

The impact this had on the lab: The creatinine qc no longer fluctuates, which saves us time and money.

Maintaining multiple mouse lines and setting experimental start dates using an autoupdating spreadsheet on a common server

The challenge my lab faced: At the highest point, our lab had over 400 cages of mice. There were mice that were over two years old, with absolutely no use to our studies. We were breeding conditional knockout mice, as well as six other strains of mice, and the sheer volume was overwhelming. Additionally, we initiated experiments at specific ages (6 or 12 weeks), so we needed to know what mice we had, at what age, and what their genotypes were.

The small thing that we changed: We began by culling the number of mice we had. Mice that were not going to be used were eliminated, while we streamlined the remaining mice from the seven strains. We kept a spreadsheet on our server (accessible by everyone), with a column that autoupdated the mices ages (denoted in weeks). Once an experiment began using the animal, they were taken off the available mice list and moved to an experimental list. Once the mouse was sacrificed, they were eliminated from the system.

The impact this had on the lab: We were able to pare our colonies down to less than 100 mice and were able to manage breeding, experiment initiation, and mouse availability all in one easily accessible spreadsheet.

Hitting your head on the emergency shower?

The challenge my lab faced: The pull for the emergency shower was placed in walk areas. The tall members in the lab were constantly bumping their heads.

The small thing that we changed: We used foam pipe insulation to cover the metal pull and added yellow tape to alert the giants in the lab.

The impact this had on the lab: No more head aches.

Keeping track of sample added to well in 96-well plate

The challenge my lab faced: When adding samples to a 96-well plate, it is easy to get lost and forget where you stopped when someone distracted you or you get interrupted by something like a phone call.

The small thing that we changed: I decided to use a brand new pipette tip box which also has 96 tips in it for each assay. I would align the 96-well with the 96-tip box so that each tip used indicated that I had already filled that well on the 96-well plate.

The impact this had on the lab: I no longer need to worry about losing my place when adding samples to the 96-well plate. I can now just look at the pipette tip box and tell if that tip is gone the sample has been added!

Small volume westerns

The challenge my lab faced: Probing Westerns was expensive with commercial antibodies.

The small thing that we changed: Reduced the incubation buffer volume to 1 ml by using heat or zip sealed sandwich bags. Placed sealed bag in glass dish and let a computer mouse ball roll over it on an orbital shaker.

The impact this had on the lab: Smaller volumes use less antibody. Volume is money.

Bench organization

The challenge my lab faced: People spending hours at the bench, and often with bad ergonomics.

The small thing that we changed: We re-arrenged the lab bench area, with ergonomic placement of frequently used equipment like vortex, pipettes, trash bin etc.

The impact this had on the lab: Less long term pain in wrists, arms and back!

Barcode Sample ID:s For Less Errors

The challenge my lab faced: We run assays at the end of our human studies collection, resulting in hundreds of samples being assayed at the same time. When entering the sample I.D:s into the software systems of the various instruments used for analysis, errors would often occur. The misidentified samples created errors in the data obtained.

The small thing that we changed: We invested in barcode readers for all of our instruments that did not have a built-in reader, and began adding barcodes to all of our sample labels. For samples without barcodes, we can print out standard paper copies of barcodes that can be read into the instruments. There is inexpensive software available that can print barcodes from a database. (Code 128 seems to be the most universally accepted barcode type for our instruments, WaspBarcode is an easy Excel Add-on, the pen type barcode readers work best).

The impact this had on the lab: Data entry is easier, samples are always correctly identified, and results are cleaner.

Plan ahead, 4 degrees C is your friend.

The challenge my lab faced: After struggling with maintaining cell cultures we needed to capture the highest viability of reagents for cell culture. This simple trick made a world of difference.

The small thing that we changed: When you have to make media for cell cultures always plan ahead. When you have made it through 3 to 4 of a bottle, take all frozen components aliquots for the media and allow them to thaw overnight at 4c. This is a gentle gradual thaw and therefore preserves the highest level of integrity of the product being thawed. Using water baths to quick thaw also has consequences on contamination and viablility of cell culture reagents.

The impact this had on the lab: Overall we have had healthier cell cultures which has led to higher level of assay reproducibility overall therefore increasing lab productivity and reducing stress of lab members.

Label your powerpoint figures and images as you go.

The challenge my lab faced: It seemed like every time we went over data such as a Western blot, it would be in a powerpoint file, but they were impossible to understand just looking at them, without the person who originated the data explaining, because they would be only cryptically labelled, or not at all.

The small thing that we changed: I encouraged everyone to label as completely as possible, the mw standards on the side of the gel/blot, and each lane by number or letter. Then, write in the notes section of the powerpoint what each number or letter stands for, including nature of sample, how many ug or ul. I also insisted that some text be included describing how the samples had been generated.

The impact this had on the lab: Having the descriptive text in each notes section allowed anyone to see what the gel/blot was about, and whether the experiment had been successful or needed repeating. It also meant that when it came time to write the manuscript, a good draft of the methods and/or results text already existed in the notes sections, and merely needed to be copied to a word file for the manuscript.

Organizer App

The challenge my lab faced: Every lab meeting we need to show our results and/or tell the problems we faced during experiments to our P.I. As a result, our lab meetings take too long and sometimes some of us could not have the help needed.

The small thing that we changed: Everybody now has an app (here we use Evernote) and we can share our results and/or problems with everyone in the laboratory.

The impact this had on the lab: Now we can get the answers/help needed anytime and everybody in lab can give advice and suggestions, reducing time in lab meetings and mainly helped us to reduce waste with experiments that could give us bad or useless results.

Lining up your film with your membrane for chemiluminescent western blots

The challenge my lab faced: Sometimes it can be difficult to line up your X-ray film with the membrane after detection.

The small thing that we changed: We place the membrane on a sheet of thin cardboard that has glow in the dark stars or glow in the dark paint applied at the far corners. Then you can easily align the developed film with the membrane after development. This also works well if you need to check that the film/developer is working properly.

The impact this had on the lab: This saves a lot of time when you are processing a lot of blots, and is also a cheap and easy way to evaluate film developers.

Regular Mycoplasma Screening

The challenge my lab faced: We use to screen for Mycoplasma infection of cell lines every several months. However, while very few cell lines would test positive, the very small number that did, would require that those cells were discarded and new stocks broken out. This in turn resulted in previous experiments that were carried out in the infected cell lines to be repeated, resulting in increased consumable costs and time.

The small thing that we changed: We now test on a monthly basis for Mycoplasma infection.

The impact this had on the lab: Now with more regular testing, should a cell line test positive, time and costs are significantly reduced with repeated experimentation.

Ampicillin stock?

The challenge my lab faced: Having the wait for the Ampicillin stock to defrost?

The small thing that we changed: Make up your stock in 50 v/v Ethanol and 50 v/v water.

The impact this had on the lab: The stock remains liquid at -20 C degrees, saving your precious time.

Chromatography Column QC

The challenge my lab faced: With multiple chromatography users in the laboratory we found it difficult to track what buffers columns had been left in, when the standards were last run, and when the column had been cleaned (CIP:d). This was costing time and resources in re-cleaning columns and running standards when not necessary.

The small thing that we changed: Instead of the situation of no labels put on the column indicating the buffer solution that the column had been left in, or sticky tape labels that leave a yucky residue, we brought in a simple and cheap system. Swing tags. This was compatible with our old columns which do not have bar codes and are not compatible with tracking software. Two swing tags are to be looped over the top of a column.One indicating the current buffer, date and last users initials. A second tag indicating the date the column was CIP:d and when the standards were run to calibrate the column.

The impact this had on the lab: The simple and cheap solution has enabled us to very quickly - glance at a column and easily ascertain what buffer the column placed in and when it was last calibrated. We can look after our columns better, but also not have to perform cleaning runs when not necessary and run standards when not needed a simple time and reagent cost saving, enabling better productivity and quality control.

Pre-pleated filter

The challenge my lab faced: We just had a new person join our lab and I noticed that she uses pre-pleated filter paper in her sample preparation for gravimetric analysis. This isn’t something I had seen before but before too long I noticed that she was able to finish her prep a bit faster than I was because of the increased surface area that the pleats provide. To be honest, it wasn’t a HUGE difference but over the course of a day she was more productive!

The small thing that we changed: I’m competitive by nature and so when I saw a way to speed up the process I went for it. The pre-pleated filters are easy to set up and use and I wish I would have figured this out sooner.

The impact this had on the lab: I’m now back in the lead for most productive person in my lab! I’ve shared a couple of my own tips and tricks with my co-worker and I hope that we can continue to find new ways to get more and more efficient!

Remote Access

The challenge my lab faced: We sometimes do not have all the programs necessary for analysis of our data and need to use a university computer room.

The small thing that we changed: A lot of schools offer remote access of the computer facility and you can download it to your own laptop saving time.

The impact this had on the lab: Everyone can analyze data on their own computer and not wait for the shared lab computer or go down to the computer facility.

Humidity Chamber for slices or 96well plate

The challenge my lab faced: How can you incubate your samples (slices, 96well plate) without expensive instruments?

The small thing that we changed: Use a small plastic bag, put a wet lab-towel and your sample in (humidity chamber). So sample stays wet instead of drying.

The impact this had on the lab: Saves a lot of money and can be used several times..

Electricity necessary but hard to reach

The challenge my lab faced: We have a lot of lab equipment that needs power. Its hard because we have few outlets. Its not good to plug power strips into other power strips.

The small thing that we changed: We simply purchased longer power strips that had spaces. This helped us get the electricity we needed further along in the lab.

The impact this had on the lab: This changed the way we did labwork. We didnt have to continually unplug lab equipment. And, we didnt have to plug power strips into other power strips either.

Student-Made Lab Safety Tips

The challenge my lab faced: Students have many lab safety rules to be familiar with... This can be overwhelming to teach/for them to read.

The small thing that we changed: Individual students are responsible for making lab safety posters that are strategically placed about the room (ie: NO FOOD IN THE LAB, hung on the door of the fridge). Then, students are paired up and sent on a scavenger hunt in the lab to discover rules. They are then responsible for staging a photograph that is placed on display as: Lab Safety Photo of the Week - What Lab Safety Rules Are Being Broken?.

The impact this had on the lab: Students look forward to seeing their photo posted, and excitement is created as students try to be the first to correctly identify the laboratory faux pas.

This tip fits all categories!

The challenge my lab faced: I found it difficult to get students to invest the time and effort in keeping glassware clean and their materials organized.

The small thing that we changed: I dedicated a drawer to each lab station. In this drawer is the basic lab necessities (test-tubes, microscope slides, pipets, pH test strips, lens paper, sharpies, etc). Lab groups are assigned a drawer and know this is their drawer.

The impact this had on the lab: Theyre now invested in keeping materials organized/stocked more time for me to work with kids. Test tubes/flasks/beakers are clean, hence we got more reliable lab results. With lab materials more accessible to lab stations, I have fewer students walking about the room. The laboratory is a more safe environment AND the students are more productive.

Rotating task lists

The challenge my lab faced: Keeping consumables stocked and routine maintenance on equipment completed (e.g., waterbaths changed out, CO2 tanks full, waste disposed etc.).

The small thing that we changed: We setup two lists split the various lab tasks that need to be completed for that week. Two lab members rotate on to either list 1 or 2 for that week on a publicly posted schedule, which also ensures accountability for completion of the tasks.

The impact this had on the lab: Our consumables stay stocked and the lab stays cleaned. Easy to forget routine maintenance is always done and we avoid someone elses problem syndrome.

Mice Retrainer

The challenge my lab faced: My lab was planning to by a 200$ mice restrainer.

The small thing that we changed: i just took a Falcon tube 50ml and made holes on either sides and an incision in the opening. This enables us to restrain and perform blood sampling easily and effectively.

The impact this had on the lab: Saved money on this and we felt good.

Plug-in timers to start the day

The challenge my lab faced: Our lab uses equipment that requires an extended warm-up or cool-down time. Usually someone needed to come in several hours before the experiment to start the equipment. Otherwise, up to 3 hours per day would be delayed waiting for the equipment to be prepped.

The small thing that we changed: We found and purchased plug-in timers that were suitable for the equipment we were using that could support the power supplies.

The impact this had on the lab: We can now set the equipment to the desired setting and the timers to start the devices before everyone arrives. That way they are ready as soon as we walk in and it doesnt hold our researchers up all day.

Cant remove microscope objective from nosepiece

The challenge my lab faced: The objectives on my inverted microscope became corroded in place after a buffer spill that wasnt cleaned up immediately. Trying to unscrew them with pliers, even using a thick cloth to wrap around the objective would at a minimum scratch/mar the objective body, probably worse.

The small thing that we changed: I bought a cheap ($11.69) Strap Wrench from Amazon, a Pennzoil set with a regular and large size strap wrench.

The impact this had on the lab: We could now easily remove all objectives, even ones with heavily corroded threads. Its now possible to clean the objectives and the nosepiece threads, and exchange objectives when needed.

Sharing files of protocols for different experiments and buffers online

The challenge my lab faced: The challenge my lab has faced in finding protocols which are perfectly working for our former lab members and reproducing the same results they have got.

The small thing that we changed: Its a great idea to create a lab group online and post all the protocols and buffers recipe so anyone in the lab can access it. It is also very helpful for new comers in the lab who can get the help from it without wasting time in quantitating their experiments as every lab has their own setup.

The impact this had on the lab: Time saving and productive results.

Make some magic in the N2 Tank

The challenge my lab faced: When we wanted something to take out of the liquid Nitrogen Tank we were challenged with the steam of the N2 that made it impossible to see where the holder are.

The small thing that we changed: We now just press the fill button for a minute and the N2 pushes the steam out and we have a clear view where our boxes are!.

The impact this had on the lab: Less time spending digging through the N2, less exposure time to N2, and less temperature drop in the tank to preserve our samples.

Thinking about work flow

The challenge my lab faced: Everyone had set up what they needed/wanted to do without considering the space as a whole. There were boxes sitting in the aisles and equipment left wherever it suited the movers.

The small thing that we changed: I looked at the lab as a whole space and started assigning tasks to certain areas and moving the appropriate items to that area. Specialized pipet tips stored on the shelves above their matching pipettes, dedicating a centrifuge (since there were plenty) to be used only for RNA work to cut down on decontamination, and moving rarely used items to storage areas or cabinets out of the normal flow areas. I labelled the drawers and cabinets so we could easily find all the things I gathered\/moved.

The impact this had on the lab: The lab looks cleaner and its easier to find things and get set up for an experiment.

Loading Capacity

The challenge my lab faced: I regularly filter samples with high amounts of very fine precipitate. I had to change the cellulose filter paper two or three times to filter my mixture because it used to get blocked due to the amount of solid.

The small thing that we changed: My sales representative recommended that I try moving to glass fiber paper. She pointed out that glass fiber has a higher loading capacity than cellulose and so I could use a single piece rather than the multiple pieces of cellulose I had been using.

The impact this had on the lab: This move has been a time saver and more convenient! Instead of having to change the filter paper in the middle of the filtration step, with glass fiber filter I just do it once and move on.

Cutting out the “Pre-washing and weighing” step

The challenge my lab faced: I do a lot of gravimetric analysis for suspended solids in water using glass filter paper. Getting this right hinges on knowing the exact weight of the filter. If the initial wt. is wrong, it will throw off the result of the analysis. Because of this, by far the most painful part of the process was washing, drying and weighing EACH of my filters before getting started.

The small thing that we changed: I went to a conference where I found that people in a similar situation were using pre-weighed filters. Filters are already washed, dried and weighed prior to shipping. I started using them and lo-and-behold, they cut those three terrible steps out of my process!.

The impact this had on the lab: The main impact is that I spend less time doing the steps that I really didnt enjoy and get to spend more time actually preparing and measuring the sample. I probably also cut 10 minutes (hands on time) out of each sample that I measure which my boss likes too.

Poor protein elution from strep solved with paused elution

The challenge my lab faced: Poor elution of a double strep tagged protein from a streptactin column

The small thing that we changed: Desthio biotin was increased to 5 mM and using our new AKTA pure we improved elution but introducing multiple paused elution with 30min pause followed by a 1Cv elution 5 times.

The impact this had on the lab: The protein was bleading off over 20+ CV now its only 5

Thick agarose gels

The challenge my lab faced: When making thick agarose gels (3) the agarose turned into clumps and was very difficult to dissolve, by the time is melted the solution was 1/2 of the original volume!

The small thing that we changed: Weight the agarose, add a few millilitres of 96 ethanol, enough to resuspend all the agarose. Mix well and then add the buffer, mix and then boil in the microwave. Agarose will dissolve without clumps and a lot faster. Ethanol will evaporate during boiling! and you will get a nice aroma when you open the microwave!.

The impact this had on the lab: Thick gels are quick and easy to make, no more clumps or bubbles

Histology Tissue Sectioning

The challenge my lab faced: Problem with trapped water under the tissue section when transferred from the water flotation bath to the slide unless the tissue was transferred very slowly - very tedious and if not done perfectly resulted in the loss of tissue sections.

The small thing that we changed: Add a trace* of detergent to the water floatation bath - works like magic.*)Add more than a trace and you will be chasing the floating sections around the surface of the water bath - not fun.

The impact this had on the lab: Tissue transfer became less exacting and the requirement for re-cuts due to tissue loss was eliminated.

COLIFORM SUPPLIES

The challenge my lab faced: I ALWAYS HAVE MY CABINET FULL OF AUTOCLAVED SUPPLIES JUST IN CASE A PROBLEM ARISES. I ALSO GET ALL TESTING DONE BEFORE FRIDAY IN CASE SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE REDONE.

The small thing that we changed: ORDER EXTRA SUPPLIES TO KEEP AHEAD OF THE TESTING.

The impact this had on the lab: NO STRESS ON FRIDAYS

Experiment organization and quick cataloging

The challenge my lab faced: Pending samples to be cleaned up were left in tube racks.

The small thing that we changed: Pending samples were placed in a storage box labeled. Need clean up and then moved to its permanent located cataloged box by their experiment number.

The impact this had on the lab: This made it easy to know whether or not the samples have been processed for further analysis such as Western Blotting or qPCR

Hot plate control

The challenge my lab faced: Hard to get accurate and digital temperature control of hot plates.

The small thing that we changed: We added a digital temp controller control box that we could plug any hot plate into, with a thermocouple for hot plate temperature control and another for solution temperature monitoring.

The impact this had on the lab: With simple but critical control, we could set exposure temperatures for chemical exposure testing or decapsulating with confidence of small hysteresis and constant temperature.

Scheduling equipment maintenance

The challenge my lab faced: Often we send out or schedule service for equipment at the last minute because the schedule for our equipment maintenance is not always available or in a readily visible location. Also, some analysts do not realize that a piece of equipment has been sent out or is down for service, so testing is delayed when it was scheduled at the same time. This also makes reagent and sample preparations for that day wasteful and costly.

The small thing that we changed: We have a large month-sized dry erase board calendar that we used as a calendar and nothing else. I started entering in the due dates for equipment service on this calendar with different colored dry erase markers, effectively turning the calendar into a planner. There is also a side column for the proceeding month where I list service dates as well. Once the month changes, the future dates are put on the main calendar and the following months dates are changed as well.

The impact this had on the lab: Not only are lab analysts more aware of when equipment will be sent out or serviced, we are able to schedule our testing around the service dates which has drastically reduced testing delays and wasted sample\/reagent prep.

Faster Western Blot using fabric\/cellulose buffer pads.

The challenge my lab faced: We constantly use semi-transfer method for our western blots. We were not able to replicate the transfer using traditional method that we were able to achieve via the propriety ready made kit that consists of buffer pads, buffer and membrane.

The small thing that we changed: Instead of using filter papers as buffer reservoir, we used Wypall X60 wipers with hydroknit technology as buffer pads with 0.3 SDS in our transfer buffer.

The impact this had on the lab: We were able to get similar transfer without having to buy the kit from the manufacturer.

Aquatic Diagnostic Technician

The challenge my lab faced: Trying to get qPCRs to work within optimal specifications.

The small thing that we changed: Buying reagents made by the same company as the Thermal Cycler we use.

The impact this had on the lab: Our qPCR assay were falling just below acceptable criteria for their efficiency 90, more like 85. We switched the supermix (mastermix) brand we were using to match our thermal cycler brand, and just with that change the Efficiency improved into the acceptable range between 90 and 100. we didnt change anything else when we made the switch.

Saving cost by saving electricity

The challenge my lab faced: Most of the lab members leaving the equipments and light on after leaving for the day.

The small thing that we changed: I took the responsibility of going around the lab in the evening and switching off most of the things.

The impact this had on the lab: Save electricity, less bill and over all less impact on environment.

Sew a magnet into autoclave gloves to keep them near the action

The challenge my lab faced: No consistent place to keep gloves when you remove hot items from the autoclave meant they were never in the same place twice.

The small thing that we changed: Sew a small powerful magnet into the cuff & now they stick to the wall & have a forever home.

The impact this had on the lab: Unloading autoclave is now simple & efficient.

Western blots using neuronal cell types - On-gel protein quantification

The challenge my lab faced: We are working on a neuronal cell type whose membrane surface area\/cell volume ratio is very large. Hence protein yield is often low. It becomes challenging to get strong signals using Western blots.

The small thing that we changed: We acetone precipitated the proteins and reconstituted in low buffer volumes to increase the protein concentration before running it on a gel.We ran acetone precipitated protein prep and non-precipitated cell lysate on a gel, alongside 5 and 10 ug of BSA. This was followed by coomassie staining and densitometric quantification of protein load on gel using BSA as reference.

The impact this had on the lab: Acetone precipitation helped improve the Western blot results. Precipitation improves the signal strength.

Cleaner Vacuum Lines for Tissue Culture

The challenge my lab faced: We have to re-use and empty our own vacuum traps. Sometimes the lines have leftover media and cells in them, and if they arent changed frequently, this can lead to contamination.

The small thing that we changed: Now, whenever we clean the traps, we use the vacuum line to suck bleach through the line and into the trap, instead of just pouring the bleach directly into the trap.

The impact this had on the lab: This keeps our vacuums and tissue culture area cleaner and contamination free!

How to get pieces of parafilm quickly

The challenge my lab faced: We use a lot of pieces of parafilm for covering slides during antibody incubations. The parafilm keeps smaller quantities of antibody covering our samples on the slides and prevents evaporation. Its often difficult to remove the paper from the parafilm quickly to cover many slides.

The small thing that we changed: You can slightly tear the paper on an edge. This makes it so you can grab the parafilm easier and then remove the paper quickly.

The impact this had on the lab: This makes handling of the parafilm much faster.

Agarose gel cooling

The challenge my lab faced: Deformed gel trays when gels poured too hot.

The small thing that we changed: Melt agarose in half the volume of buffer, then add rest of buffer, pour immediately.

The impact this had on the lab: Save time waiting for gel to cool, and gel trays from impatient people pouring too hot gels.

Fast centrifugation with balance tubes

The challenge my lab faced: Our lab users are sharing a centrifuge. How can I improve the service?

The small thing that we changed: We refill some microtubes with different water volume (25, 50, 100, 200, 300,400, 500, 600,700, 800, 900,1000, 1100, 1200 and 1300 ul). We arrange them near of the centrifuge and use them as counterweight again and again.

The impact this had on the lab: We save a lot of time and the centrifuge is working properly.

Crystallization of protein by adding DNA to optimize net charge and stability

The challenge my lab faced: Ive tried to crystallize a DNA-binding domain of a transcriptional activator and got only small and instabil crystals which diffracted poorly.

The small thing that we changed: I was adding a DNA fragment that is bound by the protein in vitro to crystallize the protein-DNA complex. Ive tried addition of the fragment before affinity chromatography or gel filtration and after purification.

The impact this had on the lab: I received evenly shaped crystals which diffracted to a better resolution. However, the DNA was NOT incorporated in the crystal. Instead the DNA helped to stabilize the protein with its negative charges during purification and crystallization much better than a salt would do. Due to that invention I could increase my protein yield and the quality of crystals.

Team Communication of Lab Results

The challenge my lab faced: Having access to experimental design and results on an ongoing basis when multiple students are running the experiments.

The small thing that we changed: When Microsoft OneNote became free, we put laboratory notebooks into this software that stores itself in the cloud.

The impact this had on the lab: Students can access it from a PC or Mac and continually update design and results on an ongoing basis.

The last person who uses it tops it up...

The challenge my lab faced: We had an issue where commonly used reagents ran out without anyone noticing or informing about it. The next person planning experiments always had to do mundane and time consuming inventory check before starting any work.

The small thing that we changed: We started a last person tops it up policy. The last person who uses that last bit of common buffer or that last bag of tubes has to make new buffer or open a new carton of tubes. For common reagents we also started a 1 spare policy: at any time, there should be 1 bottle in use and 1 bottle stashed. If the stashed bottle is taken, the person who takes it must put in an order for replacement.

The impact this had on the lab: Commonly used reagents are now in stock as long as everyone plays their little role in being responsible. Quick experiments with common reagents can also be done on a very ad hoc basis

Disposal of agarose gel containing ethidium bromide

The challenge my lab faced: Try to reduce, at no cost, the amount of contaminated material to be disposed of by the powerful mutagen

The small thing that we changed: Instead of disposing agarose gel wet, we leave them in a special box open at room temperature, in a safe place specially dedicated, until the entire buffer is evaporated and gels have become thin and transparent.

The impact this had on the lab: Eliminating the water to slow evaporation, we do not add other costs, reducing and concentrating the toxic mutagenic to dispose of we decrease of at least 90 times the cost for disposal.

Taking care of your electrophoresis tools

The challenge my lab faced: We had leaking electrophoresis units

The small thing that we changed: By cleaning them immediately after using them, or soaking them in water until they can be cleaned, but certainly not waiting until the next day.

The impact this had on the lab: The equipment, leak free, lasts for decades, wont have to be replaced and frees up money for personnel.

Tip box and pipette organisation

The challenge my lab faced: Every time we came to use a pipette and tip they werent always where they should be and we spent useless minutes trying to locate where they were on the bench

The small thing that we changed: We labelled all the pipette holders with the positions where each pipette should go (1-10ul, 2-20ul, etc). we also made placement mats for all the tip boxes and their corresponding sizes.

The impact this had on the lab: Now we just grab a pipette and tip and go

Distinguishing Lab Materials

The challenge my lab faced: My lab and another lab store our unused Nitrogen gas cylinders in the same room. This often leads to confusion when one group purchases a batch and and another goes in to replace one of their empty cylinders: people then lose track as to which group owns what cylinder.

The small thing that we changed: I decided that when I receive a new batch of Nitrogen, I have the cylinder labelled with my groups name before it goes into the storage room.

The impact this had on the lab: No more confusion. I know exactly how many cylinders I have left because our name is on it.

Keep common lab space organized and clean by having point people in charge

The challenge my lab faced: With a lab of over 20 common lab areas were often left messy and disorganized

The small thing that we changed: We made people in charge of certain common lab spaces. They monitored the cleanliness, restocked reagents and equipments, and kept the space organized.

The impact this had on the lab: This helped our small lab space stay clean, organized and efficient

-80 C freezer content masterlist

The challenge my lab faced: Our -80C freezer was full of mysterious boxes of which we knew not the contents. It was very hard to locate anything we needed. When located, sometimes the label had partly rubbed off.

The small thing that we changed: We made a -80 C masterlist on which one logs the contents when adding something to the freezer. We included the date, specific freezer box, plasmid name, antibiotic resistance, and any additional comments. We then periodically upload this information to a masterlist on our lab server, so everyone can access an electronic version.

The impact this had on the lab: We can now easily and quickly locate anything in our -80C freezer. It saves time and helps keep our samples safe.

Retrofit High-vac for portability

The challenge my lab faced: We only had one high-vac pump for the lab and it needed to be shared between several researchers and hoods.

The small thing that we changed: We retrofit a small dolly to carry the high-vac and plumbed the high-vac with a longer hose equipped with inexpensive quick-change adapters and splitter valves on the high-vac hose as well as the hoses going to the in hood manifolds or traps. The high-vac out was also fitted with a hose to exhaust into the hood.

The impact this had on the lab: It greatly decreased transfer and setup time (by ~10 min per move) associated with using the limited pump availability that we had as well as offered increased flexibility in the use of the pump.

Lab Safety Tip

The challenge my lab faced: Prevent glassware and utility knife injuries.

The small thing that we changed: Corrective action: Provided self-retracting utility knives and cut resistant gloves to wear under any traditional gloves worn for chemical protection. Educate lab colleagues and enforce glove and utility knife work practices.

The impact this had on the lab: Minimize record able incidents.

Experiment set up, the day before

The challenge my lab faced: Most of the times people in the lab arrives without a scheme the day of the experiment

The small thing that we changed: A good habit is to prepare in advance (at least the day before!) a detailed scheme of the experiment indicating steps, timing, quantities and tips .

The impact this had on the lab: In this way, managing your experiment will be faster, simpler and more precise.

Online form for lab supplies

The challenge my lab faced: We were buying more than needed for somethings, spending more money than we had.

The small thing that we changed: We introduced an online web form (made with google docs), where people place their order. A lab technician is responsible for deleting multiple entries if they are not needed. We also have a form to follow up on our orders. Everything that is been bought has its color changed to orange and if it has arrived, its color is changed to green and the place where it was kept is written on the table.

The impact this had on the lab: The biggest impact is on money saving, the other was that people now can follow up on their orders online, without the need to ask all the time the person responsible for the lab orders.

Using Parafilm to prepare samples with or without oil for agarose gel analysis

The challenge my lab faced: Using separate tubes to prepare gel samples took time and wasted tubes. Difficult to separate PCR reactions from the oil and load directly on the gel.

The small thing that we changed: We tape a piece of parafilm to the benchtop and aliquot loading buffer onto it. Soluble samples are transferred to the Parafilm. After adding loading buffer, the sample can easily be separated from any residual oil and loaded on the gel.

The impact this had on the lab: Saves some time because you can prepare the Parafilm and loading buffer before the PCR reaction has ended. Saves on tube costs, and makes it much easier to load only the soluble PCR reaction on the agarose gel.

Waterbath Beads

The challenge my lab faced: Keeping waterbaths clean and full of water. Also not wanting to use anti-bacterial and anti-fungal poisons

The small thing that we changed: Replaced water in all waterbaths with metal beads.

The impact this had on the lab: We now have clean and continuously operational waterbaths

Organize documents, protocols, papers, etc

The challenge my lab faced: Our lab has many ongoing projects, with undergrads and grads participating. Making sure that solutions are made properly (the math), and that recipes are followed was becoming harder when everything was in a pile of paper

The small thing that we changed: The lab went Digital! We set up a Google Drive for the lab. Its organized by files (Protocols, Cheat Sheets for buffers, papers, Sequencing Data, etc), and everyone has access from any computer!! It has also become our backup system for all the data.

The impact this had on the lab: We spend less time doing calculations (the beauty of Excel), or searching in the towers of paper for the protocols and recipes. We just open Google Drive, and everything is there.

Recycle tip box as PCR tube rack

The challenge my lab faced: We were short on PCR tube racks and had need of a means to hold single PCR tubes while setting up reactions

The small thing that we changed: The bottom of a pipet tip box for 200 microliter tips provides a convenient 96 position organizer with holes about the right size to hold 200 microliter PCR tubes. The tubes are held solidly enough for loading and help organize the experimental set up, though this does not provide a suitable long term storage option.

The impact this had on the lab: This saved the lab money of having to buy more PCR tube racks

When making TRIS buffers, set the pH the next day

The challenge my lab faced: pH in buffers with Tris were always different after a day or two

The small thing that we changed: Tris can take up to 24 hours to completely dissolve depending on the concentration, even knowing you dont see any crystals left in the solution, so setting the pH 24 hours after the solution was prepared solved the problem.

The impact this had on the lab: High impact! There was no yeast growth on the expected time and lower protein production due to wrong pH of buffer

Temperature control is critical in qPCR setup

The challenge my lab faced: Our qPCR results were showing variability that we just could not finesse. Lectures on proper pipetting technique, special non-stick pipette tips etc helped, but still we were not getting replication of results to the degree that was satisfactory

The small thing that we changed: Finally realized it was due to temperature variation in our solution aliquots (in 1.5 ml tubes), which can warm up from the ice (4C) to above room temp in a flash while you are holding them during pipetting, leading to minor changes in fluid density, thus volume pipetted. qPCR is so sensitive that these tiny changes in volume are quite noticeable in results. Keeping everything at 4C in a chilled microfuge tube rack within the hood during pipetting solved the problem. (Regular microfuge tube rack kept in freezer and placed in hood during qPCR setup).

The impact this had on the lab: Our replicate crossing points are now within .1 units from one another. (previously 0.5)

Barcodes

The challenge my lab faced: For large amounts of data entry that require patient details that need to be entered multiple times at different stages - the task was very time consuming and was slowing down the lab work.

The small thing that we changed: Create barcodes for the patients where data entry has been entered once and can be retrieved from a central database instead of being entered again and again.

The impact this had on the lab: Increase productivity and turnaround time on results.

Dont procrastinate

The challenge my lab faced: Every year we are notified of courses that we have to complete to ensure lab safety, compliance with organization requirements, use of animals, etc. If people dont complete the requirements, significant time is wasted with constant reminders and personal intervention to make sure the lab members know of their responsibilities.

The small thing that we changed: By example, we show people that it is OK to make the completion of these institutional requirements a major priority and that they should know that it is OK to interrupt their schedules in order to meet the training requirements.

The impact this had on the lab: Less time needed to remind lab members and a reduction in emails about the need to complete the mandated training.

Write the conclusion of each experiment as if it is the final one

The challenge my lab faced: Students were sticking the gel pictures or graphs etc. on the note book with conditions of the experiments, however interpretation and conclusions were very sketchy.

The small thing that we changed: I mentored them to write the conclusion of each experiment. I encouraged them to write in narrative that they would like to review as a PI as if the conclusion is written by their student.

The impact this had on the lab: Students are maturing faster, they already come with the next logical step or experiments with improvised conditions. All I have to do is add my opinion to their conclusions and next course of action.

High quality reliable standards are life savers!

The challenge my lab faced: Being a smaller university that strives to provide our students research experiences can lead to problems in the labs. Our students are required to make their own standards, collect samples, and process them in order to present their findings in conjunction with our faculty at conferences, etc. At times sample results can become really questionable: was it the standards, the samples, the instrument or the prep to process the samples? Now expand that by a few hundred samples maybe? Everything seems to come to a halt.

The small thing that we changed: We have our students test their made standards to either proven standards or purchased standards from a manufacturer for that process, or instrument. It gives them some reassurance to how well they can prepare standards, prep samples, and when to question the instrument or the process. Overall saves them time, increases their research experience and benefits the lab in general.

The impact this had on the lab: It has increased sample quality, throughput, and improved various stages of processing samples. Especially when there are a few hundred samples to be run. It also gives our students more self confidence when they present their research at a conference or to our faculty that the results they are seeing are true and valid. Not poor sample prep, or unknowns that they cant explain when questioned.

Passwords

The challenge my lab faced: There are many sites with prescribed rules on the type of passwords that one can use, e.g. number of letters with or without numbers etc. I keep on forgetting which passwords, among my set of usual passwords, I have used.

The small thing that we changed: So I keep a folder of passwords for the sites with each page containing the website and the password which is also coded, but with clues for me to figure out which password it is. .

The impact this had on the lab: I can access sites easily (most of the time...). The challenge now is to make sure that I make the password file as soon as I register on any specific site.

One for all and all for one

The challenge my lab faced: As we are in Chile, it takes long time for reagents to arrive. Thus, we have to plan in advance and think about what we will need in the future.

The small thing that we changed: Appoint each person of the lab to be responsible for a piece of equipment or item.

The impact this had on the lab: Always the equipment is in good shape. We always have stock solutions for common things and supplies, etc. People talk more and feel they belong to a group.

Organizing the reagents cupboard

The challenge my lab faced: Looking for a reagent in the cupboard can take a lot of time.

The small thing that we changed: We have assigned to each reagent a number and placed the reagents in the cupboard in order of increasing numbers. On the cupboard door we have attached a list of the reagents shown in alphabetical order with the corresponding number.

The impact this had on the lab: To find a reagent we just have to identify the corresponding number on the list and then look it easily in the closet. In this way we reduced the wasting of time.

Thawing frozen buffers quickly

The challenge my lab faced: It took up to 15 min every time a buffer tube was taken out of the freezer until it melted completely if it was thawed in hand and even longer if it was kept on the table.

The small thing that we changed: We started using a heat block without switching it on. Each well had some added water in it, the tube was put there and the buffer would melt in 2 minutes. If the tube was too small for the heat block, it was put in a room temperature water bath with a suitable floater.

The impact this had on the lab: This has saved countless of hours of work time and making that one last reaction just before going home has become a stress-free activity.

Its all in the hand

The challenge my lab faced: While our lab was well organised, we found that productivity and comfort was reduced by having each persons work station set up the same way.

The small thing that we changed: Simply by setting up everyones work station so that the most frequently used items were next to the dominant hand made a big difference!.

The impact this had on the lab: Lab members are more efficient because the left-handed people no-longer have to cross over the other hand to get the most often used items. All members still know where the items are because each station is just a mirror image for the lefties. Such a simple and no-cost solution has made life easier.

Additional Buffer Stock

The challenge my lab faced: When supervising student buffers and stock solutions typically go missing or become contaminated. This presents a high cost when having common buffer stocks

The small thing that we changed: We keep a box of common buffers often produced by students, where each student and technician can take their own stock, and we keep a secret stash that is prepared and tested and only used when the common buffers become ineffective or contaminated, in order to rescue ongoing work.

The impact this had on the lab: Ongoing work are no longer lost when buffers go missing or are contaminated, thus, cutting costs efficiently, all within a teaching environment.

Sensitivity improvment in ESI - for LCMS

The challenge my lab faced: Low level detection of human hormones in drinking water

The small thing that we changed: As recommended in a publication we use NH4F at a concentration of 1mM in water as a buffer. This buffer is not often described, but very useful.

The impact this had on the lab: We dramatically improved sensitivity for estradiol, estrone and ethinylestradiol for direct analysis of driniking water by means of LCMS

Sticky glass plates

The challenge my lab faced: When separating a polyacrylamide gel from glass plates it sticks and brakes.

The small thing that we changed: We treated the glass plates with a cheap and readily available glass treatment for car windshields (Rain-X).

The impact this had on the lab: First, no more broken gels. Second, the substance substituted toxic and expensive glass siliconization procedures in my lab reducing costs (Yes, we do a LOT of PAGE gels).Third, the substance takes a while to wear off so one treatment lasts a while. Fourth, we have no interference with our results.

Schedule Calibration/PM of Systems

The challenge my lab faced: With such a busy time ahead of us, we always tend to forget to do the yearly or biyearly calibrations on pipettes, scales and systems. Also keeping track of it is a nightmare.

The small thing that we changed: 1.) Tell the calibration vendor to have it in his system as a reminder 2.) Place an outlook reminder (1 month early) 3.) If the whole site is doing calibration, join the group: rather than have them come back multiple times.

The impact this had on the lab: This will allow no project delay and be more efficient without compromising data.

Lab Notebook Organization

The challenge my lab faced: I have faced the challenge of lab notebook organization

The small thing that we changed: As a masters student, I will have over 4 projects for my thesis. To alleviate the jumbling of each experiment into my notebook my mentor has suggested that I get a separate lab notebook for each project.

The impact this had on the lab: As a result of making this change I have been really ORGANIZED!!!

Buffers as stock solutions to save time and achieve reproducibility.

The challenge my lab faced: It takes time to prepare buffers and to calibrate and use a pH-meter.

The small thing that we changed: First use zwitterionic (Goods) buffers, preferably, as their activity coefficients are closer to 1.Then utilize the Henderson-Hasselbalck equation : pH pKa + log (Base\/Acid) to figure out how much acid and base are needed to achieve the pH needed given you know the pKa at the temperature of your experiment (easily available data).Finally, make concentrated stock solutions which you filter through 0.22 um and store in a clean glass bottle with a tight cap, preferably in the dark (If you trust your pH-meter, you could verify that the pH value of you buffer upon dilution will always be as predicted ; or, buy yourself a new pH-meter and\/or electrode).If you can, always add a bacteriostatic agent such as sodium azide or thimerosal to your stock solutions so that your final buffers will contain 0.02 sodium azide or 0.02 thimerosal.

The impact this had on the lab: Buffers are ready when you need them. You just need to dilute your selected stock solution. Moreover, the pH of your final buffer will be kept constant over a long period of time which is an asset in terms of reproducing your data over time.Hours of time are saved.

Equipment calendars in Outlook

The challenge my lab faced: We are challenged by limited equipment availability. (e.q. NGS platforms, Genetic Analyzers, real-time systems, thermal cyclers, bioanalyzers, etc.)

The small thing that we changed: To lessen impact on others, delaying experiments, or double booking equipment we have many pieces of equipment listed in Outlook as shared/public calendars. .

The impact this had on the lab: Doing this allows us to sign up for equipment at specific dates/times and permits others to see equipment availability. Nice thing is we can sign up from any computer by logging into Outlook from any web browser.....even if you think of an experiment while away from office.

Labelled appliance plugs

The challenge my lab faced: As our lab uses many different electrical appliances on each bench, it was always difficult to work out which wall power switch to turn on for a given appliance.

The small thing that we changed: Labels were made up with the appliance names and affixed to each appliance plug.

The impact this had on the lab: No more time wasted flicking switches on and off or tracing leads back to instruments.

Don’t let the accessories get feet…

The challenge my lab faced: We have many useful, sometimes pricey equipment accessories in our lab. These have been scattered all over and can be difficult to find, which is annoying especially when you are in the middle of an experiment and a vital piece of equipment is missing.

The small thing that we changed: We have installed a transparent unit on our lab wall for storing all of our accessories. This is the one place to go to when we look for things in the lab.

The impact this had on the lab: The impact was immediate, the lab is better organized and its easier to find what you are looking for.

Decrease flow rate when purifying at 4°C to protect the column

The challenge my lab faced: Our buffer’s viscosity increases significantly when the temperature is lowered to 4°C, resulting in higher pressure over the chromatography column, which could damage the packed bed and shorten the life span.

The small thing that we changed: When purifying proteins in cold room, decrease the working flow rate by half compared to the flow rate recommended at room temperature.

The impact this had on the lab: This simple change in flow rate can help protect your precious column and retain its performance longer.

Rising-table helps relieve back pain

The challenge my lab faced: Frequent back and shoulder pains from spending long hours in the lab or by my desk.

The small thing that we changed: A rising-table allows me to stand up while doing work on my computer.

The impact this had on the lab: More natural movement and a more relaxed stance than when sitting, which has resulted in the pain disappearing.

Quick way to measure larger volumes

The challenge my lab faced: Often time we need to measure volumes in our lab and it could be tricky when it comes to large volumes or highly viscous liquids that are difficult to handle.

The small thing that we changed: When the solution density is known, we use a laboratory scale to measure volume.

The impact this had on the lab: This approach offers a quick and convenient way to measure larger volumes or viscous liquids with little mess and minimal effort.

Keep concentrated stock solutions in the lab

The challenge my lab faced: It takes several minutes each time we need to prepare fresh buffers in the lab; time that adds up.

The small thing that we changed: Whenever possible, we make a highly concentrated and filtered stock solution for the most used salts and buffers and we dilute it to the proper concentration on the day of the experiment.

The impact this had on the lab: This helps shave a few minutes a day from our prep work

Background issues in Western blotting

The challenge my lab faced: We were having issues with high background signal in chemiluminescent Western blotting.

The small thing that we changed: We were using bovine serum albumin that was more than a year old as the blocking agent. Using new BSA solved the problem.

The impact this had on the lab: Our Westerns were working again with low background levels.

Instant Inventory

The challenge my lab faced: It is most-convenient to store cardboard boxes of supplies on shelves so that they are out of the way. Unfortunately, looking at a cardboard box, it is impossible to tell how many conical tubes/pipettes/etc. are left inside. As a result, occasionally someone would grab a box, thinking that we had sufficient supplies for an experiment, and there was insufficient supplies in that box.

The small thing that we changed: We now mark the outside of the box with a marker every time we remove supplies from it. If there are five racks of tubes per row, and four rows per box, we simply draw a cross and then place an X into the respective quadrant as we pull out a rack of tubes (As shown in the attached photo where two racks of tubes have been used).

The impact this had on the lab: This means that with a quick glance, we can now asses the inventory of supplies and order accordingly.

Making sure our Western detection reagents are active

The challenge my lab faced: No signals from Western blot experiments using chemiluminescent detection and I suspected that the reagents might be at fault.

The small thing that we changed: We changed our SOP:s to include the blue light test: when an HRP-conjugated secondary antibody is pipetted into a mix of active detection reagent components, the solution should light up in blue.

The impact this had on the lab: We have improved our Western data quality and reduced reruns by introducing a quick, standard check of the detection reagents before running sharp experiments.

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