The LMB’s workshops provide an important central facility for the LMB and other MRC Units in Cambridge.
As well as providing instrument improvements, modifications and repairs, the workshops are responsible for designing and constructing a wide range of complex scientific instruments that are not available commercially.
By having the workshops on site, work to design, prototype and develop new instruments happens much faster at the LMB than in other laboratories, which are reliant on outside contractors.
The work of the LMB’s workshop experts has also had a wider impact on research – in the UK and worldwide. Over the years the LMB’s workshop staff have created a number of novel instruments which have been adopted by the wider scientific community including some that have gone on to be produced commercially.
In-house skills encompass the full range of currrent electronic techniques, from programmable logic to Peltier heat-pumps, from robotics to electrophysiological controllers, and from computer interfaces to vision systems.
The workshops can adapt existing equipment, or design and construct complete systems from scratch. Examples of the many hundreds of projects undertaken over the years include a photomultiplier system for long-term monitoring of circadian gene expression in cells and tissues, optical and control systems for confocal microscopy, and a complete custom robotic system for high-throughput genomics. Others include thermal imaging systems for monitoring animal activity, advanced sensors for integration into microfluidic chips, and a miniature thermal stage for micro-scale PCR. X-ray crystallography is still well represented, with the development of advanced high-resolution image plate scanners.
Custom software, particularly for instrument control and interfacing, is also developed for both PCs and Macs. Many of these projects are undertaken hand-in-hand with the Technical Workshop. Like all of the LMB’s resources, the Electronics Workshop is there to serve the researchers, and its skills are at the disposal of all members of the Lab from PhD students to group heads. The Workshop’s staff provide a wide range of skills, from software to hardware, and are always ready to discuss new projects, helping to develop an initial idea into a fully-functional piece of equipment.
Extensive use is made of computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacture (CAD-CAM) which, combined with the experience of the Workshop’s staff, and their ability to work with any material − from Teflon to titanium − means that almost any challenge can be met, from a new electron microscope stage to a microtome for taking ultra-thin brain sections.
The high standard of the Technical Workshop’s design and engineering, coupled with the challenges set by the Lab’s scientists, has led to the commercial development of many projects started at the LMB. Indeed, many of the items now found in labs around the world, from gel tanks to confocal microscopes, have started life in the LMB workshops.
Repairs and quick ‘day job’ projects are undertaken on demand to ensure the smooth running of the Laboratory and a speedy service to the scientists. Technical advice and project feasibility discussion is always available and visitors to the Workshop are welcome.