What I do in the lab depends on the day, but all of my activities revolve around glass slides. Some days, I have to do my least favorite task: polymerizing the glass slides. The procedure isn’t particularly difficult or unpleasant, it is just time-consuming. The upside is that once I polymerize two batches of slides, I don’t have to do it again for awhile.
Other days are all about printing the antibodies on the slides. In the morning, I will take some polymerized slides to the Shared Materials Instrumentation Facility (SMIF) cleanroom to use the microarray printer. I have to wear a full body suit over my clothes, complete with a head cover, shoe covers, and a surgical mask. The SMIF printer is really precise and can print tiny spots of capture antibody. I print 24 assays onto each glass slide. Then I take my printed slides back to our lab to use the Biodot printer. The Biodot is also a non-contact inkjet printer, but we can use it to print trehalose pads and detection antibody as larger dots surrounding the capture antibody spots. Then I leave the slides in a vacuum dessication chamber overnight.
The next day, I will test the assays that I printed. This means spiking a liquid, usually a buffer or fetal bovine serum, with different concentrations of the protein the assay is meant to detect. These serially diluted solutions are pipetted onto the slides and incubated for about one hour. Then I put the slides in a wash buffer, centrifuge them dry, and analyze them with our lab scanner. The computer program we use scans and quantifies the fluorescence on the assays. All of this data is collected, sorted in Excel, and able to be made into a dose response curve. The dose response curve is the big make or break moment. What you hope to see is that as the analyte concentration increases, so does the fluorescence intensity on the assay. If the dose response curve looks weird or doesn’t have the expected limit of detection, I have to think about what went wrong and try again.
My days usually follow one of those three basic patterns. Of course, each day is still a little different. Sometimes there are lab meetings, free food leftover from other events, or lunches with friends. Most days the grad students bring their dogs to our office space, so I get to play with them whenever I have a free moment. The people I work with are friendly and patiently answer my questions about where things are and what I’m supposed to do. My only complaint is that because we work with delicate antibodies printed onto glass slides, I live in constant fear of dropping slides (or God forbid, a whole box of 30 slides!) or smudging the antibody spots. It keeps me on my toes.