Autoclaving Pipette Tips

Most wet labs have trash cans filled with plastic pipette tips. Forget the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, have you see the Great Atlantic Pipette Tip Patch?

While it is fascinating to imagine herrings jousting each other with 1 ml pipette tips on their heads, it’s also atrocious. If you have easy access to an autoclave you can prevent this just by aspirating some filtered water through the tip after you use it and then putting it back into a second pipette tip rack for autoclaving.

Yes, really. People actually do this. Try it. Do a control, see if it works for your research, then go save the world.

The Cost of Experimentalists

As a special April Fools post, today we are going to try to discuss the cost of scientists. Specifically, this will  be about the cost of scientists in an academic setting.

Let’s start with a Post-Doc. In many fields at most universities a Post-Doc is paid based off the NIH/NRSA guidelines. This scales with the number of years you have worked as a post-doc, what field you are in, and what university you are at, but roughly speaking a Post-Doc can expect to make $50,000 a year.

But that’s not what their employer pays.

Post-Doc’s incur an Employee Benefit or Fringe Benefits rate. Which can either come in at a percentage (around 25% a year for MIT and Harvard). Both the Employee Benefits and the actual paycheck are considered “direct costs”. Direct costs requires a payment of infrastructure costs known as Facilities and Administrative (F&A). Looking this up at Harvard, that rate is 69%

As a ballpark then, a Post-Doc will cost $90,000 to $120,000 a year. Depending on there experience, and the universities policies on Employee Benefits rates and F&A rates.

The math for hiring a lab tech will be similar, but the pay range is a bit wider. Still a lab tech being paid $40,000 will cost around $80,000 – $85,000.

Graduate students are cheaper. Their salaries tend to range from $25,000-$35,000. Graduate students to not receive employee benefits because despite the taxes they pay, they are not considered employees. They still constitute a direct cost, and thus require an F&A fee. Graduate students also require tuition, which works in vastly different ways at different universities, but in general can be summarized as roughly 50k which is subsidized by roughly 50%. Tuition is not a direct cost.

The final number for a graduate student lies somewhere between $65,000 to $80,000. Except that graduate students are often required to teach. A graduate student might teach as often as every other semester, reducing their total cost by almost half.

Finally undergrads are often free, particularly if they are desperate or have federal work study. Tell one they are working for you as an “Assistant Scientific Researcher”, you can even have them build some of the stuff on this blog that you don’t have time for.

Just don’t let them touch anything valuable.

Viewing IR Light with Your Phone (Or Laptop)

Traditionally I use this $2000 handled infrared viewer when aligning our Ti:S beam.  But recently I’ve been finding that my phone (a Samsung S8) is sensitive to IR light, and that it’s way easier to use than an infrared viewer when aligning the laser. Besides being more flexible with viewing angles (since your face doesn’t need to be right next to the viewer anymore), it also makes it easy to show others in the room what the beam path looks like. The featured image to this post is what the beam path looks like to my phone.

My labmate has a new(ish) iPhone, and we found it seemed to have an IR-stop filter, so it couldn’t see the beam. I grabbed a webcam from a nearby desktop and that worked great as well, here’s a video of what that webcam saw:

So before you go buying that infrared viewer, try out your phone, or the webcam on your computer.



Technical Tuesday: Protein Purification on a Budget

Welcome to the first Technical Tuesday! Where we try to dive a little deeper into the actual costs involved in particular scientific techniques. We hope to show where you can save money, and what you might lose by saving that money. Today’s topic is protein purification by columns thanks to Dr. Marc Ridilla who provided most of the information and all the graphics in this post..

Nowadays purifying proteins with columns on an AKTA allows for a lot of control in flow, buffer mixing, and data collection. Yet AKTA’s are expensive and often that sort of feedback isn’t necessary.

Either way, you might consider making your own columns. A 5 mL HiTrap TALON column goes for over $100 right now, while TALON media comes it at a similar price every 10 mL.

You can buy a C Column for a few hundred dollars to use with the Talon medium, and this gives you more flexibility, you can now create columns of variable volume. If you don’t intend to use an AKTA, you might as well just use PD-10 columns.

Which brings us of course to the real point, in that an AKTA is necessarily the best way to run a column a lot of time. As far as cost goes, the cheapest way to run a column, is you (or gravity).

and the cheapest way to collect fractions, is you.

Of course, if you are collecting fractions manually and pumping manually you will lose a lot of time. We think a happy middle ground consists of a peristaltic pump attached to self-made columns. This gives you a lot of control and you can get precise scientific protein purifications for just $500

The benefit to this approach is you already have AKTA compatible columns if you decide to spring for something like that later. If you buy (or make) a double set of programmable pumps you’ll even be able to run elution gradients.  Though this will cost you a bit more money.

Dr. Peter Foster also notes that by working with syringe pumps directly instead of an AKTA you have no dead volume, which means less time in each step which means less time for those tricky proteins to degrade.