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Keep your experiment running, even during a blizzard

For every impending blizzard, there is a large group of scientists out there thinking, “But what about the experiment I had planned?”. Don’t get me wrong, not every thundersnow is going to bring about the total shutdown of a city. If you live close to work, and the subway is fully functional, your lab could still be at half capacity. Congratulations, crisis averted, your experiment goes as planned. This post is not for you.

This post is for the scientist who squared off against mother nature and lost. She is bringing thundersnow. And you are bringing soggy winter boots. For the scientist who will not be able to get to the lab, despite their best efforts, let’s talk about preparation.

The short-term plan: snowmageddon is tomorrow

If the storm is coming tomorrow, there is not a lot you can do to keep your experiments moving. Feed your cells and top off the water in the incubator. Put away new deliveries, especially the ones that need to be in the refrigerator or freezer. You don’t want to return to work to find your expensive new antibody sitting next to a fully warmed ice pack.

If you are lucky, you can set up experiments that have long or flexible incubation steps. For me, big storms meant I should set up a round of spheroids, which kick off with a 72 hour incubation time. That was enough time to get through most storms. Synthesis with shorter incubations or constant monitoring is probably not happening unless you already have the hardware set up and ready to go.

Check the instrument logs for last minute cancellations. A storm can prevent some of the overnight or late night reservations, even on heavily booked machinery. If you have an experiment that doesn’t require a lot of instrument time, you might be able to squeeze it in during the afternoon. You might even find a rare 24-hour slot on the always-booked XPS machine. Time to set up that depth profiling scan you always dreamed of. You can set it up the afternoon before, and have 24 hours of uninterrupted time. Then remember to grab your hard drive and settle in to watch the snow fall and analyze some data. While you’re at it, read below and prepare your lab for the next snowstorm.

The long-term plan: winter is coming

If you want to get ahead of the game, prepare for all weather-related situations. That way nobody is trying to drive through two feet of snow and you don’t run the risk of having a scientist alone in the lab.

Enable scientists to to do as much work from home as possible. Sure, they can always write or prepare presentations. But if you have your lab set up for remote science, they can also keep their experiments on track. For lab equipment that is connected to a computer, a simple solution is installing remote access software like TeamViewer. This works well for time lapse confocal images. The plate can be set up the day before, and you can remote in to start taking pictures. You might be able to save a week's worth of work from having to be redone.

While logging into an onsite computer is helpful, it will tie up the machine, it isn't exactly scalable, and it doesn’t give you control over your instrument. To establish direct control, equip your lab with cloud-enabled instruments. For the chemists doing synthesis, investigate remote kill switches to turn off shakers or hot plates. For tracking, connect humidity and temperature probes. You can even set up remote alarms for your personal mobile devices. You want to ensure your beautiful reaction will be sitting there complete after the storm.

If you need to physically watch your reaction turn from clear to cloudy, set up a camera and monitor it from home. Since it is cloud-enabled, you can watch it from your laptop or phone. Download images of temperature profiles and make your figures while staying in your pajamas. Snow day win!

Learn how TetraScience Monitoring can help you during the next snowmageddon.

Kristie Tevis

Kristie Tevis

Kristie holds a PhD for Biomedical Engineering from Boston University and has over a decade of research experience. She is currently working in protocol development and IP data organization.

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