Friday, June 17, 2005

So, have you noticed any problems?

By now, you know that I didn’t use traditional micropipettes for my thesis research. But when I started working on the project, we were using much smaller micropipettes which we were able to make ourselves. There are two main steps in making a micropipette. First, you insert an off-the-shelf glass capillary tube into a pipette puller, which heats the glass up in the middle and, well, pulls it apart. This creates micropipettes with wispy, flexible tips that are useless for most applications, leading to step two: forging. You take the freshly-pulled pipette and put it into a microforge, which is a sort of microscope combined with a heating element and a tiny bead that you use to melt and break the tip of the wispy micropipette to make a smooth, custom-sized pipette tip.

For several years, our lab used the microforge in the lab of one of our collaborators. But as our respective labs grew in size, this became more difficult, so The P.I. decided to buy a microforge of our very own. And because it would make training people in the art of forging micropipettes much easier, we decided to get one with a video hookup so that the forging process would show up on a TV screen. There was only one of those on the market, so we bought it, and I was put in charge of getting it set up.

The new microforge arrived, and when I got it put together, I pulled a few pipettes to try forging. I ran into a few problems. First of all, controls for adjusting the position of the objective lens were extremely stiff and difficult to turn, so that fine-tuning the focus was impossible. In addition, the objective itself was attached to the forge in a way that made it too heavy to stay put when fully zoomed in, so that when the lens was zoomed in enough to actually see what was going on, the objective slowly sank out of line with the pipette tip. The entire experience was an exercise in frustration.

I called the manufacturer to complain, and thus began my long relationship with the microforge’s designer. I explained the problems we were having, and he asked me to ship the forge back to him so they could take care of it. Over the next several weeks, during which various pieces of the microforge were shipped back and forth between our lab and the manufacturer, I learned that we had been lucky enough to be the first-time-ever purchasers of this particular microforge. And apparently, they had never actually tried to use their product to forge micropipettes. It seemed that, rather than test the product themselves, they just shipped it out to us, trusting that the design was sound. Because if they had tried to make pipettes with this thing, the problems would have been immediately obvious to them. They sure were obvious to me.

Eventually, they fixed the design and the microforge became a usable tool for our lab, but not before I grew to intensely dislike the designer and the company for essentially using me as a test engineer for their product. So when the president of the company emailed me to ask me if I could give them a quote about the microforge that they could put on their website, I told him that I didn’t think I had anything to say that they would want advertised.

The Doktah did have a few quotes to suggest:
It worked… eventually.
They’re the only ones that make this type of forge, so we were pretty much SOL.
Perfect for the masochist in the lab!

1 comment:

pipette said...

These products have also found extensive use in the field of molecular biology where measured amounts of samples need to be extracted and introduced into lab machines that correspond to their use.