#LabShopping Tip Number 1

chuttersnap-233105-unsplashLab supply shopping can be a time-consuming task. For example, at least 17 companies sell 50 mL conical tubes. So how do you avoid low-quality, experiment-ruining brands? Which supplier has the best price? That’s where we come in. At HappiLabs, we know how to get these answers efficiently and fast.

Over the next few months, we’ll share #LabShopping tips we swear by for buying the highest quality and most affordable equipment and supplies for our scientist friends. If you have any recommendations of your own, we’d love to hear them! Please tell us in the comments or tweet us @HappiLabs_org using #LabShopping. Now, on to our first tip:

Never Pay List Price…

….without asking for a lower price. Many companies sell the same product, competition is high and there is always someone willing to give you a discount. Just ask.

If you’d like help with searching or shopping for lab supplies, get in touch!

When disaster strikes, can you keep your samples cold? The secret to the instant -20 freezer.

Explosion at MU left this lab decimated - image from http://philosophyofscienceportal.blogspot.com/2010/06/mu-lab-explosion-update.html
Explosion at MU left this lab decimated. Image Here.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, these disasters can wipe out a power grid and compromise the delicate samples and expensive reagents that need to be stored below freezing. The most well-prepared labs, with redundant systems and back-up generators, still have only a finite time before they go dark and their freezers fail. For labs with fewer resources, even short, local power outages can compromise their cold storage.

The University of Concepción Marine Laboratory was almost completely demolished in the 2010 Earthquake/Tsunami. Image from http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/10chile/logs/mar9/media/1mar9.html
The University of Concepción Marine Laboratory was almost completely demolished in the 2010 Earthquake/Tsunami. Image Here.

What do you do when the grid goes down, the lights go out, and the temperature in the deep freezer begins to rise? If you’re lucky, you might have access to dry ice, the workhorse of emergency freezer management, but, in disaster scenarios, dry ice may not be readily available. Fortunately, there is another option if you need to drop the temperature to -20C in a hurry and your resources are limited:

Make ice cream.

Ice cream is made by mixing large-granule rock salt (sodium chloride) with ice. Ice requires energy to melt, and by adding salt, you’re lowering the freezing point and increasing the amount of energy needed to trigger a phase change. Give the mixture a vigorous stir and you’ll see some ice phase into water, than back into ice. Drop a thermometer in, and you’ll see the temperature drop quickly. Practically, you’ve just made ice colder.

How much colder? Mixing 30% rock salt to 70% ice will lower the temperature to between -20 and -30C, cold enough to keep most samples safe, at least for a while. A 50-lb bag of rock salt costs less than $10, so grab a couple, stick them somewhere out of the way, and hope you never need to use them.

cropped-hl_logo_xl.pngIt’s not just natural disasters that can knock out your freezer. A blown motor or other mechanical failure can take your critical systems offline. A HappiLabs Lab Consultant can help you pick the best, most reliable equipment for your laboratory.

Researchers who make an environmental difference: Lisa Sanzenbacher

In 2009 Lisa Sanzenbacher was a lab manager at the University of IL-Chicago (UIC) and immunohistochemistry was her “best friend.” While consuming massive amounts of plastic lab supplies and chemicals used for staining, she thought, “There must be a better way to get rid of this stuff.”

Lisa Sanzenbacher and pipette tip box recylcing bins
Lisa Sanzenbacher and pipette tip box recylcing bins

Fast forward to 2012…Lisa is the Laboratory Sustainability Analyst at UIC. She helps scientists recycle lab supplies and safely dispose of hazardous materials. One of her biggest accomplishments to date is the Pipette Tip Box (PTB) Recycling Program. Did you know PTB’s are 100% recyclable???

The PTB Recycling Program at UIC includes 56 bins in 10 buildings on campus. From July 2011 through November 2012 (see graph) the program has diverted 4,660 pounds of plastic from landfills and into the recycling stream. That’s roughly 29,000 boxes of pipette tips! If your university is not recycling PTB’s and you want to start making a difference, find out who your Sustainability Analyst is and put them in touch with Lisa.

Results of the pipette tip box recycling program. Y-axis is pounds of plastic recycled.
Results of the pipette tip box recycling program. Y-axis is pounds of plastic recycled.

Lisa’s 3 Recommendations for Creating a Greener Lab

  1. Turn off the lights! It sounds easy, but don’t forget about plugged in equipment, Biosafety cabinets, and fume hoods. Equipment that is off but plugged in can still pull electricity.
  2. Unclutter your lab. You’ll be amazed at how many labs purchase items they already have. Every duplicate purchase includes packaging materials, energy associated with shipping, and wasted grant money.
  3. Look for alternatives to hazardous processes or chemicals. Just because you have used a certain procedure or chemical in your lab before, doesn’t mean it’s the best method. Google: “MIT Green Chemical Alternatives Purchasing Wizard”

3 unconventional tips for new graduate students

Here are three unconventional professional development tips from my experience as a grad student that can help you be more a happier and more productive graduate student.

Write a book review: “Writing a book review is challenging, especially for a scientific journal. You have to do some research. You need to understand the author’s conclusions, and you need to read broadly within the field to place the book in the appropriate context. It’s an excellent exercise in research and writing.”

Ask for free textbooks: “As a graduate student, you’re not just a student, you’re also an educator. So if you see a textbook you might need, but don’t have access to it, send the publisher a letter asking if they’ll provide a complementary copy. The worst that can happen is they say no.”

Invest in a good Navy Blazer: “A good, high-quality navy blazer will cover just about anything short of a black-tie function. It adds a small degree of formality to just about any occasion and it’s incredibly flexible. It’s even a good idea to have a blazer with you during field season. For those times when you’re traveling with scientific samples and potentially suspicious-looking equipment, being dressed like a professional can make a world of difference.”

3 more awesome 3D printed tools for scientists

A few weeks back, we looked at several 3D printed objects that can help reduce cost in your laboratory. 3D printers have the potential not only to help scientists produce their own cheap consumables, but can also make complex, innovative tools. Advanced 3D printer users have access to myriad opportunities to expand their research. Here are 3 of our favorite advance 3D printing projects for scientists.


A Fully Printable Microscope: It may not be the highest quality microscope on the market, but this 3D printed beauty is perfect for taking into the field, the classroom, or anywhere else that you need a microscope but don’t want to risk your expensive, high-end models.

Swiss Army Tube Block of Science: An awesome tube rack that can handle all six common sizes for sample tubes – 0.2mL, 0.5mL, 1.5/2mL, 5.0mL, 15mL, and 50mL. This is an incredibly handy item to have around the lab for those big, multi-volume projects.

Open Source Orbital Shaker: Commercial shakers can run upwards of $1500. This open source orbital shaker, built from 3D printed parts, common off-the-shelf materials, and easy to find electronics, costs less than $150. Check out this video of the shaker in action: