Debbie Knight

Sometimes you have to get creative in the lab

In research log on September 12, 2012 at 9:30 am

Sometimes you have to find creative solutions when you do an experiment.

I was running a gel on a much larger format than I am used to. It felt like I was using a gel held between two glass plates that I imagined were made for the Jolly Green Giant.

I typically work with the smaller glass plate (between my thumb and index finger), but today I was working with the larger glass plate.

I usually run the gels in the smaller apparatus on the left, but on this day, I was using the ginormous apparatus on the right where I encountered several logistical issues.

Because I had never worked in this scale before, it meant I encountered several logistical issues as I conducted the experiment. Most I could solve pretty easily. For instance, I never run gels in this area of the lab, but I needed a steady stream of water to cool the buffer. I had to figure out where to safely put the power supply where it wouldn’t get wet should the setup spring a leak (think tubing popping off the connector and spraying water everywhere). Also, I had to figure out how to pry the gel from between the glass plates without tearing it. Little things like this.

But the biggest problem I encountered was how I would incubate the resulting membrane strips for the rest of the experiment.

I thought I could perhaps place them in this tray designed to hold thin strips of membranes. However, my strips were twice as wide as the slots in the tray.

The tray I thought I might be able to incubate strips of membrane for my experiment. The strips were too wide for the slots.

I dug through our cabinets and drawers and found four screwtop glass tubes that would work. The problem was there were only four — I needed 20.

Problem: I only had four screwtop glass tubes to work with — I needed 20 of them for the experiment.

It was a holiday. I couldn’t turn to my lab neighbors to see if they had any of these test tubes.

So, I had to get creative.

There was nothing in the lab that would work. So while the gel was running, I went to a couple of nearby retail stores. I kept an extremely open mind, but I didn’t find anything that would work.


I next tried a hardware store. Again, open minded. I finally found some PVC pipe and end caps that could work. The hardware guy didn’t bat an eye when I said I needed 20 six-inch pieces cut from a ten-foot pipe.

Twenty PVC “tubes” that the hardware employee had to cut from a ten-foot pipe.

So, I had my solution. It wasn’t ideal — you can’t exactly see through PVC pipe. And getting the caps off wasn’t easy. In fact, I didn’t have quite enough caps, so I had to use rubber stoppers for some of them — turned out the stoppers were much easier to remove when I had to add reagents to the “tube.” But it helped me get through the experiment.

The PVC pipe solution.

It should be noted that the PVC “tubes” cost about 50 cents a piece. The glass tubes from a lab supplier cost two dollars a piece.

Oh, I did end up using the tray — to keep the tubes in position while they rocked overnight.

To keep the “tubes” in a specific orientation, I used the immunoblot tray. The slots held everything in place pretty well.

In the research lab, it often takes some creative thinking beyond designing the experiment — sometimes you need it just to do the experiment.

I guess that’s why there’s the saying “necessity is the mother of invention.”


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