Debbie Knight

The “core” of the problem?

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2013 at 11:16 am

flow cytometer with studentsconfocal microscope

My department has some scientific equipment that is shared by all its members. I’m talking the pricey, big ticket items like flow cytometers and confocal microscopes that very few individual labs could afford.

It’s a great idea. And I actually wish that there was more shared equipment like centrifuges, for example. And maybe even some smaller, more affordable instruments.

But, alas, in a department that is spread out in five buildings, it’s nearly impossible to have truly communal equipment. Now, don’t get me wrong, most investigators are more than willing to let others use their specialized equipment.

The department actually has allotted lab space for the shared (or, as it’s called “core”) equipment. So the flow cytometer and the brand-new confocal microscopes are housed in a lab. There’s even a person who manages the area. Well, actually one and almost-a-half persons. The almost-a-half person is me.

In a new turn of events, there are members of the department who want to make the core equipment a fee-for-service deal. Where, if you are not a member of the department and you use the equipment, it will cost you. Not a bad way of earning a little revenue to help defray the cost of the equipment’s maintenance contracts which can run $2,000 a year.

I will tell you that the one and almost-a-half person staff are not as “expert” as we would need to be to actually run a fee-for-service core facility.

If I was paying to use the flow cytometer, I would expect the staff to help me set up my protocol and attempt to fix any problems that might arise while using the instrument.

Oh, sure, I’ve done my share of flow cytometry. But I’ve only done the simple stuff like looking at one or two fluorochromes (they “glow” when they are hit by the cytometer’s laser beam). But it gets really complicated when you’re looking at more than two because one fluorochrome’s “glow” might overlap with another’s. You have to make adjustments to how much of the flow the cytometer’s detector, well, detects. I haven’t done this. It’s something that I would need to learn.

The other staff member has never used a flow cytometer. Talk about a steep learning curve!

There exists a really good flow cytometry lab that is fee-for-service on my side of campus. They will even run your samples for you – if you’re willing to pay.

A really good microscopy facility exists as well. They may not scan your slides for you, but it is worth having these experts available to help.

In my department, the fee-for-service idea is just talk at this point, but I suspect it will happen.

That being said, I wonder if we “build” it, will they come?

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