Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Open thread for new PIs and lab setup discussion

Over at ChemBark, the following request:
a new discussion thread for those of us who are trying to set up labs? It would be nice to discuss experiences with different vendors/products, strategies for stretching startup money, etc.
I hereby announce this open thread. Enjoy.

Also, I wanted to note this request on Twitter from Julia Kalow on good literature to read in preparation for running a new laboratory that generated a lot of good responses, including this small list of "new assistant prof lit":
Best wishes to all new assistant professors and Godspeed.

UPDATE: Here's Paul's thread from 2013 talking about new laboratory setup, deals and pitfalls. 

43 comments:

  1. What about those who are looking for lab space (and some funding) in the context of start-ups?

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  2. Many thanks to Chemjobber and all those in charge of creating this very much anticipated thread! We will definetly be making much use of this resource and apologize in advance for the many perhaps naive questions that we will be asking...Cheers!

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  3. There is a newer edition of "At the Helm"
    http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/at-the-helm-kathy-barker/1101420716

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  4. I will also, shamelessly, suggest my own article on how to mentor undergraduates in science research lab settings (and how this differs from mentoring grad students or postdocs).

    http://www.nature.com/nnano/journal/v8/n11/full/nnano.2013.237.html

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  5. Sorry if these are too blatantly obvious, but here are links to Sigma and Fisher New Lab Startup pages.

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  6. Where is the santiago link supposed to go?

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  7. Thanks for providing this thread, CJ!

    A few specific questions to get started:

    1) Has anyone had experience with Heidolph rotovaps or stirring hotplates? What are your thoughts?

    2) Does anyone have a recommendation for a pump for a dual-bank manifold, to be used for organic synthesis (drying glassware, removing residual solvents, occasional vacuum distillation)?

    3) Does anyone have a recommendation for a pump for a rotovap? I've had good luck with KnF pumps and was thinking about an OEM one from Chemglass (https://www.chemglass.com/product_view.asp?pnr=CG-4812-30), but was hoping someone here has had experience with it. I have an older version of the single stage model(https://www.chemglass.com/product_view.asp?pnr=CG-4812-10), but it seems underpowered for a rotovap.

    Thanks!

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    1. I've used Heidolph rotovaps in both my PhD and postdoc labs, and find them to be quite good. Never used their hotplates.

      My PhD lab was primarily organic synthesis, and our standard pump for manifolds was Welch DuoSeal (can't remember the model number, but from looking on their website it was probably the 1402 or 1405).

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    2. @CatHerder

      We just started up a new lab space with Heidolph rotovaps (Value Digital) and have been happy with them. We have to pull off less volatile solvents like DMF, so we bought an absurdly nice pump (Vacuubrand PC 3001 Vario) to manage the job. Honestly, it's far and away the best vacuum pump I've ever worked with (diaphragm pump that changes pumping speed - hypothetically extending is lifetime - to regulate the vacuum pressure), but it does cost a pretty penny. I believe Heidolph partners with Vacuubrand to make their vacuum pumps. Also, Heidolph makes a nice chiller/recirculator (RotaChill RC Duo) that can cool two high volume evaporations simultaneously at ~-5 oC.

      For us, we decided to get a more stripped down rotovap and have all the bells and whistles on the pump, but your application might be different. We also have some old KnF pumps lying around that appear indestructible to me. Hope this all helps...

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    3. anon electrochemistMarch 11, 2016 at 6:30 PM

      I use Heidolph hotplates. They're incredible, best I've had, better than IKA, VWR, the usuals. The wire on one of the temperature probes got destroyed after a year of being doused in boiling acid/DMF/oil, but otherwise indestructible.

      For those industry friends: My lab manager didn't want to pay extra for German engineering, but my facility had a mandate for buying equipment with dual shutoff features like the Heidolph plates have. No one asks any $$$ questions when you're upgrading equipment as part of a safety initiative.

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    4. Thanks for the advice! What do folks think about dry ice cooling vs. a chiller? I've never used a chiller with a rotovap, but it seems like this is an increasingly popular choice. I'm hoping someone can fill me in on the advantages of this approach.

      What I *have* heard about chillers actually seems negative: it takes about a half-hour for the coolant to reach operating temperature, and it is easy to overwhelm the cooling when removing low-boiling solvents (ether, DCM, etc.). Those of you who have used rotovap-chiller combos, do these negatives ring true?

      I worry about undergraduates in my lab (I'm headed to a PUI) not waiting for the coolant to reach operating temp and/or forgetting to adjust the vacuum and ending up with a ton of solvent passing through the pump.

      Given that my institution will provide dry ice, would it just be better to go with a traditional CO2/acetone cold finger? What say you commentariat?

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    5. In my undergrad lab (also at a PUI), we used a chiller with our rotovap, specifically because the department didn't get--or pay for--regular dry ice deliveries. I can vouch that both of the negatives you pointed out were true in my experience. The 'start-up' time wasn't really an issue, we would just turn the chiller on at the start of the work day and then last person to leave lab turned it off. But we ended up with a ton of solvent passing through the pump, which was a real problem.

      Short answer: if your institution provides dry ice, just go with that.

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    6. Agreed with @Anonymous that a chiller, while great for high boiling point solvents, will kill your pump if you are constantly rotovapping low boiling point solvents. A solution? Teflon pumps! YAY! Cheaper, harder to destroy and they can be vented into a hood. Downside? They won't pull as well. So it depends on what you are rotovapping. Interesting note: Most rotovap places will take used rotovaps/rotovap parts and pieces and give you cash toward a new rotovap for them. Not much, but I gleaned a few thousand by trading in the refuse of the department.

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    7. We have a Bruker rotovap with chiller. It chills in about 10 minutes at the beginning of the day. We have a digital controller attached so all you have to do is select the solvent and water bath temp and it will automatically set the vacuum to the right setting. If you let the controller do the work, you can usually see a perfect line of condensate about halfway up the chiller coil. Pretty idiot-proof. We very rarely have trouble with solvents in the pump, and usually only when somebody is being impatient or inattentive.

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    8. You need a vacuum controller to evaporate low-boiling solvents: the cooling capacity of any rotovap condenser (chiller/recirculator or dry-ice trap) is insufficient, at least in my opinion. The digital controllers are nice, but if you're heading to a PUI, you should get an analog vacuum controller. Here's one from Heidolph, since they seem to be popular:
      http://www.heidolphna.com/products/rotary-evaporators/vacuum-pumps-and-chillers/vacuum-accessories/
      Also, I just spent about a day evaporating a large volume of different solvents (ether, DCM, methanol, DMF, etc.) to find appropriate pressures that will allow for time efficient evaporation that doesn't overwhelm the cooling capacity of the condenser - thus pulling solvent through the vacuum. I then wrote all this information down in the lab's SOP for using the rotovap. While annoying, I think it was useful because the rotovap will be used properly and efficiently, thus (a) making user’s time more efficient and (b) extending the lifetime of the pump.

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  8. For anyone requiring metathesis catalysts, I have found that Materia was willing to send me free samples of several different catalysts, provided I acknowledge their donation when (if) I manage to publish on the projects involved.

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    1. Johnson-Matthey had similar sets for both homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis. Some were free, some cost money. Most samples have expiration dates, and the kits need to be restocked. Again, JM would restock some kits for free.

      Biggest issue was when a less skilled person used a sample, damaged it, and put it back in the kit. This was hard to police.

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  9. I'm starting a new lab at a smaller research school with a startup of about $150K. I've been in industry for a while working for a company with deep pockets, so I really don't have a feel for bargains on glassware, supplies, etc. I'm determined to make my lab as safe as possible, but I know I can't afford all of the safe equipment we used in industry (J-Kem controllers, Findensers, Lab Armor heating pellets, etc, etc). I've been told to insist on faculty discounts at Sigma, Fisher, VWR, etc, but I'm wondering if anyone has had good experiences getting discounts on specialty glassware like 3-neck flasks, schlenk flasks and manifolds, solvent distillation heads, etc? My new school doesn't have a dedicated glass shop and I think I'll have to handle most glass-related issues using good ol' UPS. Also, any good leads on big ticket discounts such as glove boxes, solvent purification systems, IR systems, etc would be appreciated.

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    1. for 'specialty' glassware (manifolds, schlenk-ware, etc) you may be better off finding a glassblower who will give you a good price/discount for placing a large order to set up your new lab. where in the US is your new lab? - if we're in the same general region, i can give you a more specific recommendation.

      most vendors that sell gloveboxes also sell solvent purification systems, and will offer you a package discount if you order both at the same time. i had good success with getting 'package' quotes from multiple vendors, then using the quote from a lower-quality vendor to bring the price from a higher-quality vendor way down. as someone also noted above, you can get other unexpected discounts for a lot of bigger equipment purchases, such as by trading in broken old equipment that you may find lying around your new department (this has worked for me in the past with buying a UV-vis). I also got an unexpected 'repeat customer' discount for a large instrument purchase in one case, because i mentioned to the sales rep that i had used their equipment before in a previous lab and liked it. sales reps can usually give much more of a discount than they will admit up front, you just have to ask!

      also, Lab Armor will send pretty generous free samples of their heating beads if you submit a request (http://www.labarmor.com/lab-armor-beads-free-sample-test-drive/). at one point, everyone in my postdoc lab submitted a sample request, and then we were fully stocked!

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    2. First, congratulations on your new position!

      Chemglass offers a steep discount (~45%) to academics on products they make in-house (most glassware). You may be able to get even more of a discount from them for a large lab setup order.

      For simple glassware (RBFs, etc.), I've had good luck with Laboy (http://www.laboyglass.com/), a custom glass service
      run out of China. Their prices are hard to touch and the quality is quite good. I would avoid buying large pieces of glass from them (1L RBF, etc.) because they come with super thick walls--I was actually worried one of their 1L flasks was going to break the vapor duct on my rotovap because of the extra weight. I'm not sure I'd get Schlenkware from them, but I don't have any experience either way.

      I've used a few different solvent purification systems during my career and the ones made by Pure Process Technology (http://www.pureprocesstechnology.com/Solvent-Purification.html) are hands-down the best on the market and its not even close. Unless you are on a super tight budget, I'd spend a little extra and go with these folks.









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    3. This is great intel, thanks again! I've heard that most outfitters will offer substantial discounts with the caveat that one has to ask for them explicitly. The prices at Laboy seem too good to be true. I'm tempted to order a few pieces just to evaluate quality and durability. Thanks for the lead on that.

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  10. Hi All,
    I am also going to a smaller research university. I would appreciate if someone can share their experience in purchasing single/double glove boxes?

    Thanks

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    1. I've got a MBraun single glovebox with an appended freezer. It's been pretty reliable. One common problem about which I was warned is that the coolant for the freezer component often leaks upon transit, but I didn't have that particular issue.

      If you are on something other than the ground floor, getting the glovebox up to your lab may be an issue. With the elevator in my building, we needed to remove both antechambers in order to get them to fit. I don't know what I would have done with a double glovebox.

      With respect to the finances, there are enough manufacturers to keep everyone honest. Expect to spend about $25-30 K for a single glovebox.

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    2. Thanks Iron Chemist.

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  11. Can any one give advise in purchasing LC-MS, GC-MS systems with discounts? Agilent, Shimadzu are the market leaders but how are the other players (Waters, Thermo MSQ) in terms of service, discounts?

    Thanks

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    1. We recently put together a lab at a small startup from scratch. We've found that service/quality from Agilent has really taken a nosedive recently. We got a huge discount on a prep HPLC at the end of their sales quarter, but their salespeople lied to us about "fixed" issues/concerns we had with previous versions of their instruments and the technician wasn't even able to install it properly. After several service visits where they basically called us idiots (I believe the technician called us "the three stooges" to our face), we ended up figuring the problem out ourselves (and that the installation was completely botched). We got a Waters QDA LS-MS at a pretty big discount. It's top notch and they've been a dream to deal with in terms of service. I would imagine the discounts at most places are even better for academia. The biggest thing we found was that the discounts get a whole lot better if you explicitly let them know who else you're talking to during the sales meetings.

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  12. Don't look only at discounts... I got GC/MS and LC/MS with startup funds. GC I bought the high quality stuff, works still today perfectly >10 years. No problems. LC/MS bought a cheaper one as it was a great deal.. but you get what you pay for. Disaster from the beginning. So be careful what you buy! even if $ are limited... Also consider putting a lot of $ in equipment as later on it is nearly impossible to buy equipment. Grants typically give you only small stuff and give you salary so don't use startup excessively for this.
    Deals: ask for demo machines and/or see if you get a package deal.. additional discount if you buy both instrument from the same company. If the big guys (Thermo, Agilent) give you a very nice discount.. be suspicious that the next generation instrument will be out in a month or so... For service ask around in your part of the country as it varies by region. A local engineer with experience is jackpot.

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  13. Anybody had any luck with VAC solvent purification systems? I've had good experiences with their glove boxes in the past and thought I might try to bundle a box with an SPS. Any thoughts?

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    1. I used a VAC solvent system in graduate school. Absolutely terrible. Most of the solvents came out wet and/or full of black metal flakes. Pure process technology (or the current company of PPT's founder) is the way to go. VAC is going to crap in my opinion. Every person I know who bought a VAC glovebox within the last 5 years has had terrible problems with the freezers. To make matters worse, customer service has also tanked.

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    2. We have a solvent system from J C Meyer Co. The glassblower from UC Irvine makes them in his spare time.. It has worked pretty well for many years and customer service is outstanding. They will let you exchange spent cartridges for filled ones for a reasonable cost, too. http://jcmeyer-solventsystems.com/About_Us.html
      However, it's a free-standing unit (i.e. not plumbed into a box)

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  14. Can someone give advice on GC (not GCMS) systems? I am trying to decide between Agilent and Shimadzu models? Thank you!

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    1. I vote for Agilent. They are rugged, relatively easy to fix, and if you can find a local engineer for cheap maintenance.

      I have used Agilent GCs for 20+ years and as long as you provide clean gases and good pressure regulators they will perform.

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    2. Second on Agilent suggestion. I also used a basic Shimadzu GC (note, no MS!) and it was fine over the three years I worked with it. Nothing fancy, but reliable. I also had a positive experience with a Shimadzu MS unit that was part of an LCMS.

      On the other hand, I don't have a lot of positive comments about the Shimadzu LC unit...

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    3. "On the other hand, I don't have a lot of positive comments about the Shimadzu LC unit..."

      cosign

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  15. For those of you looking for pumps to power a Schlenk line or vacuum manifold (h/t Milkshake): https://orgprepdaily.wordpress.com/2007/01/14/setting-up-a-vacuum-manifold/

    A question for Milkshake or others: why is pumping speed important in powering a manifold? I fully trust Milkshake; I'm just looking for some clarification.

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    1. I think it's mostly because of how long it takes to achieve the pump's ultimate vacuum. You don't want to be waiting 15 min between purge-backfill cycles.

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  16. My startup package includes flexibility in moving money between equipment and supplies and this money is given in installments each year. As I am trying to make a budget to purchase big ticket equipments (glovebox, SPS etc) during the first year, I need to earmark a specific amount for chemicals/supplies so that I do not run out of money before the end of first year! For a group of 2-3 students in my lab (organic synthesis), I am allocating 12K/year per student.
    I need some advise if that's a reasonable budget? It would be very helpful if others can share their burn rate estimates.

    Thanks in advance.

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  17. Has anyone had positive or negative experience with glassware from Kemtech America? Their prices are significantly lower.

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    1. Most of the distillation heads for our solvent stills came from Kemtech. I never had any problem with them.

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  18. You can get all type of specialty glassware for synthesis from Kemtech (Synthware is the brand name) through major distributors such as Fisher and VWR. But if you order directly from Kemtech America, you can get significant discount.

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  19. Another question: In looking at analytical balances (0.1 mg readability), how important is the brand of balance? The specs all seem similar. In particular, has anyone had experience with A&D balances? Seems like a smaller operation, but for a simple no-frills balance, their prices seem pretty reasonable.

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  20. Companies such as VWR, Aldrich, Fisher, Kemtech, Laboy, offer "start up lab packages"to new PI's. From those of you who've had experience starting up a lab (negative and postive) which of these companies offers the better deal? Who's easier to work with (i.e. minimal headaches/surprises)? Are there any other companies out there I am overlooking?

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