Most classrooms are strapped for time, money, and resources. This is especially true for science labs! Luckily, there are a few easy lab hacks to help save some money and still perform fun and exciting experiments.
- Affordable autoclave
While the autoclave is considered an essential piece of lab equipment, commercial autoclaves are large and expensive. With the rise in popularity of electric pressure cookers, a research group in Australia decided to test whether one of these cooking devices could reach the temperature and pressure necessary to sterilize their supplies. All four pressure cookers were able to kill multiple strains of bacteria. One model, the Instant Pot, was even able to kill spores, which is a hallmark of more expensive, commercial grade autoclaves. So, do you have bacterial plates you want to decontaminate? Or pipette tips to sterilize? Invest in an electric pressure cooker!
- Using an incubator as a water bath
Protocols frequently require the use of multiple water baths. However, many classrooms only have access to a single water bath, or none at all. A simple work around for this is to utilize a bacterial incubator! Simply place a large beaker or container of water into the incubator and allow it to reach the desired temperature. This beaker can now be used as an impromptu water bath!
- Melt agarose in a rice cooker
Melting agarose to make electrophoresis gels can oftentimes be a messy process. If the agarose solution boils out of the container it can take hours to scrape out of the microwave! An alternative to melting gels in the microwave is to use a rice cooker. The rice cooker will heat up the buffer enough to get the agarose into solution without boiling over. They’re also great for making gels without a laboratory microwave. Whenever we attend trade shows, we always bring a rice cooker to make gels!
- Speed up freezing samples
For many experiments, cells need to be lysed to release their intracellular contents. Whether you’re examining DNA, proteins, or lipids, cells need to be broken open to examine them. An easy way to lyse cells is by putting them through multiple freeze-thaw cycles, which disrupt cellular membranes. However, waiting for cells to freeze can feel like forever. An easy way to speed this process up is by pre-chilling a beaker of alcohol in the freezer. Alcohol won’t freeze but will stay very cold. You can then float your tubes in the beaker of alcohol, letting them be immersed in the cold. The samples will freeze in just a few minutes and the lysing can continue!
- Easy bacterial culture vessels
Many classroom experiments involve the use of bacteria. However, making large quantities of bacteria can require big pieces of lab equipment and oversized flasks. If you don’t have access to these, don’t worry. You can use a 2-liter soda bottle to grow bacteria! 2L plastic bottles are perfect for aerating bacteria, and they can be disposed of after each use to prevent cross-contamination! We found this tip at Lab on the Cheap, and they’ve got lots of other great ideas like DIY microscopes and centrifuges.
Do you have other lab hacks or work arounds? We’d love to hear them! Share with us on facebook, twitter, or instagram!