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Building a Smart Lab

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Research laboratories attempt to combine multiple pieces of equipment, processes and users in unique ways. We are using low-cost electronics and open-source software to faciltiate new experimental approaches, to develop robust quality assurance, and to make life in lab easier too.

Our goals

We want to:

  • develop instrumentation and experiments that link currently disparate pieces of equipment, and incorporate autonomy into our experimental designs (e.g. dynamic feedback that responds to changing experimental conditions).

  • facilitate high-throughput experiments (e.g. automating stimulation and sensing procedures) to minimise the need for human intervention. This maximises researcher time, improves repeatability, and improves metadata capture (e.g. through automated integration with record keeping systems).

  • monitor and maintain both the laboratory environment and experimental microenvironments (e.g. incubator and storage monitoring). This facilitates repeatable fabrication and patterning processes (often sensitive to temperature and humidity) and preserves the integrity of our cell culture and storage procedures and materials.

Flow chart linking lab equipment, lab monitoring, equipment mointoring and user lab data via a coordinating system

Elements of the laboratory where greater integration can aid results.

Our methods

We are investigating low-cost microcontrollers and single-board computers and recycled existing hardware for connecting and controlling our experiments. This is inspired both by existing academic research, but also by the extensive open-source work that has been carried out within the home automation space, demonstrating how systems from multiple manufacturers can be interconnected.

We want to build systems that can be adopted across many laboratory environments. We do this aware of the potential for e-waste, preferring to go with either recycled or reprogrammable harware, that can be disassembled and reused for other purposes once no longer required.

This research also relates to our use of electronic laboratory notebooks, which can be used to automatically record experimental metadata.