Combating time and space issue in labs todays: How a simple microscope is changing how scientists do research     

All researchers today, from grad students to principle investigators, are lacking 2 key factors that were widely available a generation ago. Today, both overall time and lab space have become a commodity in the research world and there is no reason to believe this trend will revert any time soon. While many researchers are looking at different ways to slow the trend, often times investment in the right equipment can make the biggest difference in saving lab space and research time.

In this article, I will delve into how and why both time and space are becoming far more limited in labs. Further, I will suggest a few questions researchers and those designing new products should be considering to help reverse this trend. Finally, I will focus on an example, the Lux2 microscope by CytoSMART, of a product that has been designed to be an inexpensive option to save any lab both time and space, all while providing better research outcomes.

Where has all the bench space gone?

For the majority of researchers today, keeping a well-organized lab is vital for lab productivity and being efficient. With lab space at a premium in both industry and academia, it is important for every science researcher to find ways to reduce bench-top equipment clutter. As mentioned above, the first item almost every researcher has much less of today in their labs is general space.  As research projects become more specialized, often requiring very specific equipment, all labs will inevitably become more and more full of this needed equipment. The days of endless bench space have become encumbered with necessary research equipment. Further, large lab spaces for individual labs are slowly becoming a thing of the past with more universities choosing to cut these spaces in half to accommodate a larger number of investigators. This ultimately leads to many researchers asking themselves how can they best utilize their space and manufacturers asking how they can better design their products to fit research needs with less usable space available.

To solve some of the lab space issues, common areas have been erected with specific equipment to be shared across several labs. While this certainly removes some cluttering of equipment from individual labs, it creates a host of new problems like booking times to use it, users not treating equipment with care, and who or where will funds come from to repair broken/damaged equipment. On the other hand, manufacturers of scientific products often take widely different approaches to solve the space issue. The simplest way to do this of course is making products smaller while not losing efficiency. Another and more ingenious way, is to design equipment that can be optimized to work directly on or within another larger piece of equipment, therefore not adding to laboratory clutter. With lab space being at a premium, researchers should always consider the footprint of all purchases and should tend to gravitate toward compact equipment, as long as efficiency is not lost.

Where has all the time gone?    

The other main thing most researchers today can agree with is, there tends to be a lack of time to do all the tasks one must accomplish day to day. Because of this, long hours are the norm across many areas of science. In a 2016 Nature poll of early-career researchers, 38% of respondents reported working more than 60 hours each week and of those 9% claimed they worked more than 80 hours (Nature 538, 446–449; 2016). For grad students and post-docs especially the amount that needs (or is wanted by a supervisor) to be done daily has them frequently working long hours just to meet minimum targets. While working 60+ hours should not be needed to be successful in any industry, in research it has become almost custom and principle investigators should be doing more to help these researchers save time.

When designing products, manufacturers need to be cognisant of time constraints and develop equipment that will buy researchers time. Products should be optimized as best as possible to be highly efficient and provide data/feedback quick and in an easy to read form.  There are never enough hours in a day to deal with a product that is overly complicated to use or understand, so again simplicity is key. Further, it is an added bonus when products are designed to automate and simplify a previously tedious task. When trying to “buy time” for those doing benchwork, all research heads should tend to gravitate towards products that will allow for a better utilization of time and have the ability to open up the day for other research tasks.

CytoSMART Lux2 – the perfect example of a time and space saver

Live-cell imaging has become a desired analytical tool in many cell biology laboratories that operate in the field of neurobiology, developmental biology, pharmacology and cancer research. When it comes to the field of live cell imaging, CytoSMART has become leader in creating microscopes that consider all researcher time and space constraints. The compact Lux2 microscope is allowing researchers to rethink entire projects as it frees up time, space, and can be placed almost anywhere within a lab, including incubators.

Why is being able to place the Lux2 within an incubator so important? First, placing the Lux2 within an incubator clears up valuable bench-top space. Its small frame should not take up any extra or needed space within an incubator. Secondly, and arguably more important is, the Lux2 will lesson variability in experiments as both CO2 and tri-gas (hypoxia) incubators are designed to generate and maintain a defined environment for cells. Incubators do a great job of imitating physiological conditions so that cells can grow in their ideal environments but every time the door is opened, the environment within the entire incubator is augmented for some time. This environmental change puts unnecessary stresses on cells and adds variability into studies. One of the largest innovations with the Lux2 system is researchers can view their cells from any cell phone, tablet or computer with internet access. As the Lux2 can be placed directly into an incubator and watched remotely, this will inevitably reduce the amount of time the incubator door need to be opened and eliminates any variability in internal air conditions (CO2, temperature, humidity and O2) and thus removes unnecessary stresses on cells. For all cell researchers, it always pays to think carefully what variability is being introduced into an experiment both in the incubator and during cell handling. Technology like the Lux2 can help mitigate much of the unnecessary environmental variability in research.

Last, this small functional microscope has been optimized to remove daily tasks like checking the results of a scratch assay and can even warn a researcher when cells reach specific levels of confluence. This means researchers do not need to check cells daily for certain confluency levels and lets them know when they are ready for splitting or experiments, such as transfection. This can be a major time saver for busy researchers and provides them more time to schedule important tasks around the lab rather than doing a menial task like checking confluence once or twice a day.

Conclusion

The Lux2 provides the perfect example of a device that that has been designed with todays researcher in mind. The Lux2 really is a time, space and money saver for labs. If you want more information on this microscope you can visit the Lux2 webpage here or contact sales@scintica.com.

Scintica also offers a wide variety of products that can help researcher save time, space or both! For example, cell researchers may also be interested in saving space and resources with our compact hypoxia chamber, the HypoxyLab. Alternatively, for researchers doing clonogenic, tumor forming, or spheroid assays the GelCount is an option that has been developed for these researchers to save massive amounts of time over the manual counting methods for these assays.