I Think I Have Seen the Future …
How Clever Concepts May Shape Tomorrow’s Work at the Bench
During this year’s analytica fair in Munich, I had the opportunity to see how the developers at Gilson plan to add connectivity to the bench in the lab. There are quite a few companies developing solutions, but this was the most complete concept I have seen so far.
Going through a normal pipetting workflow, the user can create the plan for the experiment with an app that runs on one of the ubiquitous tablet computers. Even I, as an inexperienced user, was able to set up a plan for an experiment within practically no time. Once the plan is finalized, the app will check for connected pipettes and, if it finds motorized connected pipettes, will select the most suitable pipette for the task at hand and will also set the volume according to your experiment plan. If you do not have one of the brand-new motorized and connected pipettes, there is also a smart way to upgrade the manual, non-connected devices: the so-called “smart button”. This button houses all the electronics to make your manual pipette ready for connection. It replaces the button you are used to. However, these smart buttons are not yet released for the wide audience.
The well-plate is placed in a frame that sits on the screen of the tablet computer. The rows and single wells are then illuminated from below to indicate where to pipette the liquid into. The reagent to be used is also indicated, so there is – in my opinion – less chance for not getting the correct substance into the correct well. Every pipetting step is automatically detected and the next step in the plan is shown. This way, going back and forth between the bench and the printed-out plan is no longer necessary.
The tracking of the pipetting is done by a small, Bluetooth device that sits on the bench. It connects among the pipetting steps also time, temperature, air pressure, and humidity. All these factors play an important role in reproducibility, or – in other words – the troubleshooting why an experiment fails.
The experiment can be uploaded to an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN), in this case, SciNote. Starting from the data in the cloud, there are a lot of different things that can be accomplished: you could decide to share the experiment with a colleague, you could add analytical proof of the success or failure of the experiment.
Or you could decide to have the same experiment carried out in an automatic pipetting robot. The ELN may even offer an option to “flesh out” the pure data that the experiment provides in the form of a report for colleagues/supervisors. The only limit I see here is the imagination of the programmers working on the interfaces to the different outlets.
This may not be the most comprehensible solution for the reproducibility crisis science is facing, but from my point of view, this framework offers solutions that can be adapted to other needs, if necessary.