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Posted by Karen on August 27th, 2015 in Karen Martin  ⟩  0 comments

Life hacks are all over the Internet, but laboratory hacks are more difficult to find. After being inspired, I did some research on lab hacks and have compiled this list for you!

First, if you’re not familiar with the term “life hack,” let me explain. A life hack is like a genius trick or shortcut that solves a problem in such simple ways. For example, take a new or old post it note, and with the sticky side down, dip it into the grooves of your keyboard to clean out dust – GENIUS!

The life hack craze has become so popular that twitter has a hashtag out there: #LifeHacks. You can also Google dozens of blogs with lists and pictures of genius hacks.

What you don’t find easily on Google are list blogs about laboratory hacks. And yet, we learn some early on. When something doesn’t work, or you simply have a problem that needs solved, your ingenuity in the lab shines. GoldBio even had some fun with lab ingenuity earlier in the year to see who could come up with some really creative ways to repurpose our floating tube racks – and some ideas could be classified as lab hacks.

But since there aren’t a lot of articles out there about laboratory hacks, and the articles that do exist seem to promote a single tip through a long blog, I set out to build this list. I looked to our researchers, the Internet and to researchers out on social media for tips and suggestions.

After some digging, here are 25 laboratory hacks from researchers like yourself ( feel free to add yours in the comment section below), some you might be familiar with, and others you might wonder, “why didn’t I think of that?” I know this will be a fantastic resource to pass along to others in your lab or network!

1. Want an easier way to cut bands out of your gel?

This genius tip came from a  Reddit user who explained that rather than going right in with a UV lamp and cutting out the band, which can sometimes be difficult to visualize, you can image the results first, and print it out scaled to the actual size. Next, cut the printed pictured band of interest out. Then it’s simply a matter of superimposing the image over the gel, and cutting out your actual band with the handy, customized stencil you made.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You- 1 Excise DNA bands perfectly

Print your image at the actual size.

Cut out the band of interest.

Now you have a perfect stencil.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You- 1 Excise DNA bands perfectly

Now you can cut out the band

of interest with no problem.



2. Have a cracked gel rig, and is it the only one available to run your gel?

According to one Reddit user, you can fix the crack temporarily with 4% agarose or higher. It should last you a few runs – long enough to get a new one.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Fix a cracked gel rig with 4% agarose or higher



3. Want a faster way to cool your melted agarose?

We mentioned this tip in an earlier video (around 5:32 into the video). To cool your gel quickly, use a 60 °C water bath. We found a few other researchers who swear by this method.



4. Don’t have access to the water bath for some reason and need to cool your gel?

Another fast way to cool your melted agarose was presented by a Reddit user who explained that if you’re doing a gel (anything below a 2% gel should work), mix half of your TAE and all of your weighed agarose and then microwave it. Once clearly in solution and melted, add the other half of your TAE buffer. Be careful with this trick, and let the hot agarose cool just a little bit, and don’t do it if your buffer is cold. The hot and cold mix could cause a volcano instead, or worse. (Use this tip at your own risk, and again, be very careful).



5. Can’t pour a gel without getting bubbles?

It happens to everyone! But there’s a solution, which was also mentioned in the agarose video. You can either use your gel comb or use a pipette tip to pop those tiny bubbles, making your gel nice and smooth. Be sure that there are no bubbles near the comb because that can influence how the gel actually runs.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Pop tiny bubbles in your gel electrophoresis with a pipette tip



6. Need to thaw some tubes quickly?

Rather than trying to warm them in your hands, and enduring freezing digits as a result, we discovered that some researchers use the snug little coin pockets in their jeans to thaw tubes. Tubes fit perfectly, and the body heat emitted quickly liquefies the contents.




  

7. Hate it when you can’t find a marker or it "walks away?"

Tape markers under your bench, under hoods and at other secret places. Make sure to tape them at the lid so you can simply pull the marker off, and reattach it when you’re done.

laboratory hacks - genius hacks for the lab

 

8. Nearly anything at the bench can work as scratch paper.

According to a lot of researchers, when you don’t have paper or your notebook handy, you have a lot of alternatives, including your lab bench thanks to the power of Sharpie and 50% ethanol or higher. Write on your gloves, write on paper towels, or write directly on the bench, that’s where you’ll need the ethanol to erase it later. (While ethanol works well to erase Sharpie ink, GoldBio is not responsible for any property damage in the event that it doesn’t come off clean).

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Lab Trick #8, everything can turn into scratch paper with the help of Sharpie and ethanol



9. Hate it when you pull out one Kimwipe with a single hand and the whole box comes with it? 

Cut a small slit in the top of the Kimwipes box so you can insert a large binder clip through it, now clip the box to your bench or bench shelves with the wipes facing out (towards you). When you only have one hand, you can grab a wipe without taking the whole box with you.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Mount Kimwipes to your lab bench with binder clips

Use Binder clips to mount

Kimwipes to your bench shelves.

 Measure before you cut.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Use Binder Clips to Mount Kimwipes to your lab bench

Once you made the slit at the top of the

box, stick one end of the binder clip through it.

Now, all you have to do is use the binder clip

to pinch it to your lab bench or shelf.



10. Can’t stand keeping your pipettes in a drawer, or is the stand taking up too much space?

One of the researchers at my old university built a wooden pipette stand that attached to the lab bench, which at the time I thought was genius but it required a lot of work. Instead, this hack simplifies it, which is the point. Simply use large binder clips to mount your pipettes to the bench shelves. The loop of the binder clip is the perfect size to hold your pipettes.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You- User Binder Clips to mount your pipettes to your lab bench or shelves




11. Have long hair and forgot your hair tie or lost it?

When you don’t have a hair tie handy for your long hair, grab a glove and cut the brim off. It will work well enough. You can also use rubber bands, but those can hurt a lot more when you go to take it out.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - cut the brim of your lab glove off to make a hair tie when you lost yoursIf you lost your hair tie and need it

for the lab, cut right along the brim

of your glove.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - cut the brim of your lab glove off to make a hair tie when you lost yours

It won't look amazing, but it works

perfect, and it doesn't hurt to pull

out of your hair.



12. Don’t have time for long conversation?

This is a tip we hear a lot: Whenever you leave the lab to talk to a lab mate or your PI, set your timer before you leave and take it with you. Then if you get caught up in a conversation and your timer goes off, well then you better go take care of whatever it is that needs taken care of – you now have a polite excuse to leave.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Your timer can save you from a long conversation with your PI.



13. Did you mess up a step in your protocol – and it’s a technique you do all the time?

As seasoned as you are, most researchers preach using checklists. But here’s the actual hack: Rather than printing those checklists out over and over, or writing them out over and over, simply write it out once, place it in a binder sleeve protector and use a dry erase marker to check off each step. Then erase when you’re done and reuse.

BONUS: Do you have undergrads in your lab that you’re worried about missing steps? Create a binder of checklists for common techniques (PCR or media recipes, for example). Now it’s there in your lab as a reference. The best part is that anyone in your lab can simply take a particular sleeve out of the binder, use it at the bench, and replace it when he or she is finished. It’ll give undergrads early practice at using checklists, and they’ll implement this trick in their future labs. And, if you’re worried about not getting those sleeves back, keep a master file in your desk, so you can replace them later.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Insert protocol checklists into sleeve protectors to reuse over rand over

Print out checklists for 

common techniques. Slide

them into their own sleeve 

protector.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Insert protocol checklists into sleeve protectors to reuse over rand over

Now you can check off each step

with a dry erase marker.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Insert protocol checklists into sleeve protectors to reuse over rand over

And it erases right off, allowing

you to reuse your checklists

over and over



14. Do you have those bad days where you mix things wrong, despite your checklist?

It happens to all of us, and this is why it doesn’t hurt to research products that actually eliminate steps, reduce mistakes and promote consistent results every time. Two of our favorites are our GoldBio  PBS (phosphate buffered saline) tablets, and GoldBio Agarose LE Tablets. Both are meant to reduce time and lead to more consistent results. But let’s face it, they’re also really handy to have when you know it’s going to be one of those days. Save yourself the trouble and use the shortcuts when you think you’ll need them the most.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - When having a bad day in the lab, use products meant to simplify steps



15. Need to float something bigger than a micro centrifuge tube in a water bath?

You can repurpose your floating tube racks by cutting larger holes in them, enabling you to float your conical centrifuge tubes too. And if you already shop GoldBio, then I’m sure you have a good supply of GoldBio floating tube racks in your lab.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Repurpose floating tube racks to hold larger vials



16. Need a quick tube rack for your PCR tubes?

This is a hack that you learn pretty quickly during undergraduate research, but it’s still worth mentioning. You can repurpose pipette tip containers into PCR racks. While this is well known, what you don’t always learn while doing undergraduate research, is that you can tape two together or you can simply stack two together. That gives them enough height off the bench so PCR tubes won’t pop out.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Double stack pipette holders and use those as a PCR tube rack



17. Hate always making the same master mixes for your common PCRs?

One researcher from Reddit said she makes complete master mixes with primers, dNTPs, buffer, Taq and water. She then aliquots out her stock and then freezes them. So far, she said this has not had any negative results, and it has saved her a ton of time.




18. Want to make media prep easier?

One of our own scientists suggested aliquoting out antibiotics like ampicillin or carbenicillin – any for that matter, into premeasured amounts that you’ll need later for your flasks of LB.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Aliquot out antibiotics for LB. Keep aliquots frozen until ready to use them




19. Do you keep misplacing razor blades in your lab, or need a better place for them?

Just get a sticky magnet, mount it to the outward base of your bench’s shelf and stick your razor blades to the magnet. Make sure to face it up.

BONUS: You can get a pretty long strip of adhesive magnet, so clip off extra to stick over the blade. That just covers all bases.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - use a magnet to hold razor blades in your lab

Use adhesive magnetic strips to mount

razor blades for your lab. Make sure they

face up.

As a bonus, cover the razor blades with left over 

magnetic strips as a safety measure. Then cover or

uncover as needed



20. Hate when the dull end of the razor blade feels like it’s cutting you when applying pressure?

This is my own hack that I learned while working in a frame shop. Wrap just a bit of masking tape around your finger. The tape becomes your second skin, allowing you to really apply force and have no pain when using your razor blade in the lab.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - When using a straight blade, put masking tape over your finger as a second skin




21. Need an image from your microscope but aren’t using one that has a camera mount?

It really doesn’t matter anymore. Your cellphone’s camera can get those pictures. It takes a little skill, but it can be done. One of my former professors said this trick can even work with a flip phone! In fact, this is starting to become so popular that one person created an iPhone microscope mount for a 3D printing contest.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Your cell phone, even flip phones can take microscope pictures




22. Is that pellet not breaking up, no matter how long you vortex it?

Use your tube racks like a washboard to break up those stubborn pellets. Run the tube up and down along the rack. Your action combined with the holes of the rack will break that pellet up perfectly.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - When vortexing your tubes aren't working, use your tube rack as a washboard




23. Have a ton of tubes to mix by inverting?

Here’s a hack that is probably well-known to those with advanced degrees, but not necessarily to an undergraduate researcher (reason to share). When you have multiple tubes that need to be mixed by inverting a few times, just stick the tubes in your tube rack, place your hand over the top of the tubes and start inverting the whole set.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Invert multiple tubes at once using your tube rack

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Invert multiple tubes at once using your tube rack



24. Wish you could search your lab notebook?

Rather than scanning the pages of your lab notebook and creating hard to search PDFs, take pictures of the pages and store them with Evernote. The app lets you post the image onto an Evernote note, allowing you to label it and provide a description. Now, not only can you search through your digital notebook later, but if you ever lose your notebook, you have it stored. 




25. Want a centrifuge balancing cheat?

According to one Reddit user, you can balance centrifuges that are divisible by two and three without using extra tubes – except in cases where you have only one sample or your samples fill all but one slot of the centrifuge.

25 Real Lab Hacks from Researchers Like You - Balance your centrifuge with configurations of 2 or 3 tubes

                                         This image is based on the Reddit user's  image submission.




If you found the post helpful, take some time out to browse our other articles that might also be useful – hey, get adventurous and browse some of our products too. Drop us a comment here or on Facebook, especially if you have some of your own hacks to add to this list. We can definitely do a follow up post in the future if we get more ideas! 

I want to give a huge thank you to researchers on Reddit who inspired the idea, and contributed their wisdom. I would also like to thank all of our other researchers who jumped in with wonderful ideas.




    
              Karen Martin
GoldBio Marketing Coordinator


"To understand the universe is to understand math." My 8th grade
math teacher's quote meant nothing to me at the time. Then came
college, and the revelation that the adults in my past were right all
along. But since math feels less tangible, I fell for biology and have
found pure happiness behind my desk at GoldBio, learning, writing
and loving everything science. 



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