Need an automatic gamma wizard? New instrumentation network enables sharing of lab equipment

Ryan McCarthy,a postdoctoral fellow in Marianne Wessling-Resnick's lab, uses a fast protein liquid chromatography system
Ryan McCarthy, a postdoctoral fellow in Marianne Wessling-Resnick's lab, uses a fast protein liquid chromatography system, one of the pieces of equipment available through the Shared Instrumentation Network

December 8, 2017—Lab equipment is expensive. When Maoyun Sun, a research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, needed a 4D-nucleofector unit for experiments introducing genetic material into cells, he couldn’t just order one for his lab. But his problem was solved when he found out about the School’s new Shared Instrumentation Network, a website listing equipment that is available for community members to use. Sun found the instrument he needed—and instruction on its use—in a lab managed by Noman Siddiqi in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, and was able to proceed with his research.

The Shared Instrumentation Network grew out of the School’s former Research Enabling Committee, which focused on ways to more efficiently build community, use spaces, and share best practices. Through discussions, members realized that researchers often don’t know that the equipment they need might be nearby in another department.

Launched in October, the network’s website provides a platform for organizing, advertising, and managing all scientific instruments at the School that have been made available for the shared use of faculty, students, fellows, and visiting scientists across all biological sciences departments. More than 150 pieces of equipment are included, such as a centrifuge in the Department of Molecular Metabolism and an aerodynamic particle sizer—a piece of air pollution monitoring equipment—in the Exposure, Epidemiology and Risk Program. The listing for each instrument includes a contact person familiar with its use.

Ultimately, the network’s organizers hope that the project will speed cutting edge science, save departments money, and increase research collaborations. They add that having access to these resources may also improve the competitiveness of researchers’ grant proposals.

Feedback has been very positive said Brian Frederick, research operations manager in the Department of Molecular Metabolism, who helps administer the network. While sharing has gone on informally at the School in the past, people were limited by what they knew was available, he said. “Researchers are happy now to have the information out in the open and easily accessible.”

The project’s biggest successes so far have come from labs that have had instruments break or fail, and needed to quickly find an alternative so that their researchers could continue working without interruption, Frederick said.

“We saved a lot of money for people while enabling them to do the science they want to do,” said Siddiqi, another network administrator.

Other researchers and staff involved in implementing the project include Danny Beaudoin, Angela Epshtein, Jeremy Furtado, Marshall Katler, Glenn Stern, Claudette Thompson, David Vaughn, and members of the Operations, Information Technology, Environmental Health and Safety, and Office of Regulatory Affairs and Research Compliance teams.

Amy Roeder

Photo: Sarah Sholes