In a lab at the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis, Yale School of Medicine, eight high-powered freezers were filled with test tubes – that is, until lab manager Riold Furtuna developed a cleanout protocol and database to minimize the accumulation of materials and optimize freezer space.
The test tubes, which house chemicals and other materials, number in the thousands and are stored in freezers at temperatures of -20 and -80 degrees Celsius. When an experiment is completed, researchers tend to keep all of the remaining materials, storing them in the freezers.
“Researchers like to keep multiple copies – as many as twenty – of, say, a particular microbe or DNA strand in case an experiment has to be verified at a future date, when really only two or three backups are needed,” said Furtuna.
Before the development of a system to keep track of and limit the materials stored in the freezers, researchers would occasionally purchase chemicals that they already had in stock, as well as freezers for additional storage space. But with -20 and -80 degrees Celsius freezers costing around two and seven thousand dollars respectively, Furtuna was motivated to find low-cost alternatives.
“I recognized two problems: a need for space and an excess of materials,” said Furtuna. “But because chemicals and freezers are expensive, I started looking for spatial solutions.”
Furtuna first had researchers inventory their freezers and discard old or unnecessary test tubes, emptying several freezers and opening up valuable space for new experiments in the process.
He then created a database to catalogue samples, making it possible to identify and dispose of duplicates. Furtuna indexed all of the lab’s materials by assigning each test tube a numerical code related to its room and freezer numbers among others.
After teaching the other researchers how to use and add to the database and instituting regular freezer cleanouts, Furtuna noticed that the freezers were no longer as crowded.
“We finally had a system in place for keeping our freezers organized,” said Furtuna.
Better management of freezer space ultimately reduced both equipment and chemical purchases, saving the lab money.
Furtuna’s development of a freezer cleanout protocol and lab material database is an example of how the desire to cut costs and reduce waste can lead to ingenuity.
“Sometimes you have to think outside the box – or freezer,” said Furtuna.
For more information on developing a freezer cleanout protocol, email firstname.lastname@example.org.