Pipetting in extreme environments: Science, adventure, art and the “Why”


pipetting-in-extreme-environments Pipetting liquids in such extreme environments as Mount Washington, Yellowstone National Park and Death Valley—is surely not equivalent to the processes we undertake in a typical life science laboratory (…or is it?)   So why bother sending a team of scientists to these places, equipping them with a variety of pipettes, environmental measuring gear and a system for accurately assessing volume delivery—with the goal of determining how a lab’s immediate, local environment can affect data integrity?  Is this a stretch, or what?

Well, perhaps it is not a stretch.

The science and the adventure

Working with countless laboratory directors, technologists, instrumentation engineers and scientists over the years—with the principal focus of improving data quality—we have seen the lab environment as a key stumbling block to trustworthy test and assay results.  Its effects—and how to deal with these effects—are not well understood; nor have they been well communicated to the lab world.  Hence the Extreme Pipetting Expedition.

Reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson’s persuasive arguments to fund Lewis and Clark’s historic venture into the unknown, a team of scientists and metrologists at Artel made the budgetary case “to understand the ‘why’ of the errors in pipetting due to the lab environment, to aggregate the knowledge, and to provide a compelling story to communicate it to our client laboratories”.  The proposal: we should mount a series of data-gathering expeditions to environmental extremes as they exist in nature.  And these explorations should be based on rigorous science, artfully documented, and provide practical solutions to the identified problems.

Over a series of four expeditions, the objective was reached.  The “why” of pipette performance in varying environments has been explained, made understandable and memorable.   There is an abundance of robust data, brilliant photography, and sound laboratory advice.

The published article Artel Extreme Pipetting Expedition: Measuring the Impact of Common Environmental Conditions on Laboratory Data Integrity reviews the first three of the four expeditions.  Each of these three presented challenges which, in less extreme forms, frequently confront laboratories and affect their results.

The fourth expedition found serendipity—an environment in nature that was a close reflection of ideal conditions for liquid handling.  (And intriguingly, proximate to Lewis and Clark’s uncomfortable winter quarters in 1805.)  Laboratory nirvana?  Perhaps.  A possible location for your next research project or series of critical assays?   That is a more difficult question.

We hope that laboratories using either automated liquid handlers or manual pipettes can now better comprehend the science behind the performance of their liquid delivery devices and—with that understanding of the “why”—make smart, creative and timely decisions in their quest for the results they deserve to achieve.  It is, in the end, all about data quality.

The art

Artel was fortunate to be able to partner with the late, world-renowned photojournalist Jim Daniels, who artfully documented the Extreme Pipetting expeditions.  A sampling of his photography appears below.

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Additional Resources