Easy pickings

Written by: Tom Shelley | Published:

A simple device for picking up and putting down microtubes – and an equally straightforward method of indicating which tube should be attended to next – enormously assists efficiency in biological and chemical test labs and reduces the risk of errors

With more and more chemical and biological testing being undertaken in laboratories, involving arrays of microtubes, the handling and correct selection of multiple tubes is a problem.
For handling, Integrated Technologies in Ashford, Kent, has come up with the ‘Esy-Pik’, which looks like a retractable ball-point pen. The user has only to press it down on to the top of an 8.5mm tube to pick it up, while pressing the button at the other releases it. Similar devices could be useful for anyone who has to handle small items.
In order to pick the right tube, the Microplate Illuminator is a standard 8 x 12 array of microtitre wells, with an LED beneath each one. A PC USB port supplies power, so that LEDs light up under the tubes to be picked or that need to have reagent added to them. The illumination is controlled by software in the PC, which can be used to select one of three operating modes. In manual mode, each of the 96 wells is illuminated in turn: either one well, column or row at a time. In custom mode, a subset of wells is defined and illuminated one well at a time. In results mode, the software is used to select a subset of wells by comparing well readings previously entered into an Excel spreadsheet against predetermined thresholds. The wells selected above the threshold are illuminated sequentially. In all modes, the user steps through the sequence, using either a fascia-mounted button or a footswitch. This idea, too, has the potential to be applied to production line assembly.

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