Natalie Stringer, our Resident Professor, has been hard at work on our newly released product: LabArchives Inventory.
Natalie got her PhD in Molecular Biology from the University of Iowa, was a postdoctoral fellow at NIH and has worked as an Associate Professor at Montgomery College and Northern Virginia Community College. She has experience on all sides of the research coin, knows what it’s like to work in a lab and gave us a look at what this new tool means for researchers looking to do better science.
- What does LabArchives Inventory do?
- It’s all about helping scientists organise items in their lab in a physical and digital way – items they ‘make’ and things they order, too. It’s a way for everyone to keep track of what they’re working on and what they’ll need in the future. Here’s an example of what I mean…I’m a trained virologist. At NIH I studied rotaviruses. To keep track of all the different rotavirus strains we worked with, we kept a giant Excel sheet which included the freezer and freezer box each tube was stored in. Later, when I was experimenting I knew exactly where each tube could be found. But sometimes this excel sheet would become outdated. It made it difficult to manage my data and generate a usage history for every tube. LabArchives Inventory helps bring research and data management together in a streamlined way.
- How did help build LabArchives Inventory?
- I played a number of roles in the development stage. In the beginning I was an advisor really. I was able to answer questions like, what’s it like to work in a lab? How are labs organised? How do chemists and physicists, for example, work differently? What words do scientists use in their day to day? I helped the development team think through lab work flows and how our new tool could support them in real-time. I’ve been a translator, if you will, between scientists and developers.
- Who is LabArchives Inventory for?
- This tool can be used for any kind of science and is for anyone trying to keep track of where things are, how they were made and how they’re being used in a lab. Almost every part of LabArchives Inventory can be customised. Users set it up on their terms and can customize storage locations, inventory types, everything. Let’s say you work in a physics optics lab. You might use lenses, lasers and clamps, for example. Those are your ‘item types’ and will be different from what’s found in a virology lab. Virologists use items like recombinant viruses, plasmids and cell lines. But because LabArchives Inventory is completely customisable, both labs can use it. We know every lab is different so we intentionally designed the tool to reflect that.
- Beyond tracking how will LabArchives Inventory benefit labs?
- It’s a great way to communicate in a lab setting. It keeps everyone on the same page in terms of what’s in stock vs. what needs to be ordered. It gives lab managers and members the ability to request items, too. In the past, if I needed something I would’ve sent an email, put a sticky note on my lab manager’s desk or written my request on a white board. It was hard to know if everyone was made aware when an item was running out…and hoarding was always a problem. Having inventory info in one place where everyone can see it streamlines communication and keeps the lab working smoothly.
- Hoarding? Tell us more about that…
- When a lab is working off of Excel sheets, sticky notes, emails, white boards etc it’s hard to know what’s in stock and what’s out. If a scientist, for example, knows they need a certain reagent in the near future they might put it aside even if it’s a communal item. People inevitably squirrel things away. It’s not efficient and it’s more likely to happen when scientists don’t trust the rest of the lab to communicate when things run out. LabArchives Inventory will help to shift that culture by simplifying communication. It’s a place to work together. I wish I’d had something similar to it as an early professional scientist, it would’ve saved me a lot of stress.