Life in the lab is easy-peasy when you are only prepping a handful of tubes. But what if you need to scale up to 10’s or even 100’s of samples?

Scaling up your experiments can have some expected and some not-so-expected, leaving you in a lurch, consequences.

Read through our tips so you aren’t caught with your lab coat open the next time you need to scale up.

Do a pilot

Do a pilot experiment before jumping in and doing a large-scale experiment. This will allow you to work out the quirks, bugs and any surprises that pop-up.

You can even scale up in steps – go from 10 tubes to 50 to 100.

Figure out your rate-limiting step

Check your protocol and determine which step limits the number of samples you can run. Perhaps the rotor you need to use only holds 24 tubes, then limit your batch size to 24.

Prepare all solutions before you start

Make all of your buffers and solutions ahead of time (if you can) and make extra. You don’t want to be caught with your bottles empty in the middle of your protocol.

Schedule in plenty of extra time

Opening and closing tubes, labeling, pipetting – these are all things that only take a few seconds. But when you multiply that time by hundreds of samples, your time is eaten up by the smallest tasks.

Sign up/Let people know

If you are going to hog a piece of equipment or be in the culture hood all day, let people know. There will be a lot less grumbling in the lab and you will have what you need at your disposal.

Order ahead

It’s an all too familiar scene: you are planning your big experiment for next week and you’ve made sure the enzyme you need is in the freezer. Unfortunately you didn’t realize your labmate needs the same enzyme. To avoid the “my experiment is more important than yours battle” make sure you order enough key reagents for your experiment without using up the lab resources.

Look for equipment that can save you time – but make sure you know how to use it

Repeat pipettors, multi-channel pipettors, vacuum assemblies even automated DNA prep machines are all great for handling lots of samples, but take the time to learn how to use them.

I really got into using repeat pipettors when I was scaling up experiments. But the first couple of times I used one, I forgot that you couldn’t count on the first or last squirts being accurate. I soon learned to refill my syringes frequently and squirt the first liquid into a waste container.

Recruit fellow lab mates

If you can, find someone to help you.  If your lab has technicians that can be used for various projects, ask if they can work on yours for the day.  Or if you are working on an experiment that is likely to be published by your lab, get your co-authors to pitch in.

Scaling up doesn’t have to lead to an enormous disaster.  Plan ahead, take your time and you will soon have big results!