Put yourself in the mindset of a new investigator beginning your own biomedical research lab. Most likely, your CV, expertise, and discoveries are inadequate predictors of your continued and future success. Suddenly, your career hinges on your ability to behave like an executive: making a first hire of a competent technician, planning an expansion during your start-up funding period, and implementing capital purchases that will maximize efficiency and stretch your budget.
First, you will require a suite of expensive equipment specific to your discipline. Regardless of your field of study, you will also need reagents, materials, and equipment ubiquitous throughout the life sciences. In particular, you will need a range of centrifuges with the capacity and versatility appropriate to your proposed benchmarks that will ensure the growth and success of the lab. That vision of success probably looks something like going from just you and a tech struggling at year zero to an efficient and productive workspace of seven or eight students and postdocs by the end of year three. Therefore, you will probably purchase one or two large tabletop centrifuges with swing buckets, one or two benchtop microcentrifuges, two temperature-controlled microcentrifuges, and small personal centrifuges for quick spins. There is a lot of potential for variation, depending, for instance, on whether your studies involve exosome profiling or virus collection, which would require capabilities limited to ultracentrifuges.
Your head is probably spinning by now, but you can rest easy. To a large extent, centrifuge providers have eliminated a lot of the guesswork and streamlined their offerings through a combination of adaptability, ease of use, and vastly improved technology.
For starters, providers are a lot more experienced with the lab start-up phase than you are. Although they do not commonly offer specific start-up packages, larger providers such as Eppendorf (Hamburg, Germany) and Thermo Fisher (Waltham, MA) offer their main product ranges with all available rotors, attachments, and inserts under single part numbers to avoid costly and confusing a la carte shopping. According to Hugh Tansey, worldwide product director at Thermo Fisher Scientific, with the exception of floor-model ultracentrifuges, units are typically designed to be “plug and play,” with little or no specialized knowledge required for immediate use. He suggests that increased capacity and decreased negative space have reduced energy and size footprints, improving efficiency and savings over the long term.
Additionally, material improvements to interchangeable parts have extended life spans and reduced the need for repair and maintenance contracts. For instance, the move from aluminum to carbon fiber rotors has diminished corrosion problems and allowed for longer warranties, and fast, foolproof rotor-swapping mechanisms have improved safety while helping you avoid the shame of having to find stronger hands than yours to help unscrew the wrong rotor.
These improvements come with an associated initial cost, but if you plan appropriately, the savings over the long term can be substantial. For example, Matthew Lieber, regional marketing manager at Eppendorf North America, notes that the growth in functional assays using RNA and protein samples has prompted a marked shift to refrigerated microcentrifuges. There is a greater initial cost than buying a regular micro and sticking it in the cold room; however, the efficiency and consistency of sample collection will be improved with dedicated temperature control, compared with a motor that generates unregulated heat while only the outer housing sits at 4 degrees. Also, Lieber explains that you can offset the cost by forgoing refrigeration for large tabletop machines—cell cultures will remain viable when spun at low speed and room temperature.
In an era of tightened National Institutes of Health budgets, the market for used equipment, available from some providers, has also grown substantially. Regardless, the diverse menu of ready-to-use options takes a potentially bewildering large purchase and makes it relatively painless and straightforward.
For additional resources on centrifuges, includeing useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit www.labmanager.com/centrifuges