There are baseline centrifuge usage protocols that every scientist has drilled into their head by the time they begin working in a laboratory, like the foundational “always balance the rotor.” Nonetheless, sometimes the details of safe, effective usage can slip between the cracks and leave new users making mistakes that hinder your lab’s productivity. Below are three of the most common errors that fresh scientists make when they’re learning the ropes of centrifugation.
Neglecting to ask questions
It’s common for novice scientists to feel that they must prove their competence in the lab. Unfortunately, the “I can do it myself” mindset often prevents new staff from seeking guidance when they should. These breakdowns in communication can have adverse effects on the lab as a whole.
New users neglecting to ask questions can damage the centrifuge and, in some cases, send the lab’s productivity into a tailspin. “If you wreck the centrifuge, which everyone uses, you’ve shut down that lab for X amount of months, right?” says Luc Roberts, chief scientific officer of Allos Bioscience. To prevent this issue, Roberts recommends fostering an environment of open communication where novice and seasoned professionals alike are comfortable asking for assistance.
Failing to clean up spills
Leaving behind a messy rotor chamber is generally a benign mistake. In some cases, however, the consequences can exceed mere inconvenience. If a user is loading a rotor with biohazardous samples—such as blood—and spills some, then they should immediately clean it up. Otherwise, the health of the next user could be at risk. Hiba Shamma, a lab coordinator at Battelle Organization, has encountered this issue while training new lab staff. “When I give them [new lab staff] orientation, [I tell them] ‘Hey, even if you’re not doing any Risk Group 1, Risk Group 2 work—even if it’s protein work you’re doing—you have to decontaminate your area with bleach and isopropanol.’” By establishing a clear, broad procedure for instrument usage, like Shamma and Roberts have in their labs, you can ensure that your newer staff develop the right habits and are less likely to forget proper maintenance.
Visually estimating sample volumes
Although it may be a convenient shortcut, forgoing the use of a high-precision balance and instead estimating sample volume is a bad habit. Because centrifuges amplify mass, even the smallest differences between the fill levels of opposing tubes can, at sufficient speeds, result in unstable spinning. While it’s true that modern centrifuges have imbalance detectors to automatically end an unstable run, premature termination can still damage the samples.
It’s also worth noting that many laboratories still use older centrifuges that lack these sophisticated safety features. In such cases, it’s vital to ensure that a rotor is balanced properly.
While procedural mistakes like forgetting to clean spills or eyeballing a sample volume can happen for plenty of reasons, many of them are caused simply by a weak communication culture. By prioritizing communication, laboratory managers can preemptively address any potential misconceptions and ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them and is comfortable seeking assistance.