This past November, millions of Americans headed for the polls, exercising their right to participate in the democratic process. The Scientist also believes in the democratic process, and earlier in the year it asked readers to vote on who makes the best stuff. Lab stuff, that is--the instruments, gadgets, software, tools, and resources that make it possible, even enjoyable, to do lab research. The Web-based poll asked for free-form answers, so respondents could enter any product or company they wished; no list of candidates was supplied.
Inside a sealed chamber buried deep beneath the home office in Philadelphia, an elite conclave of staff members assembled, solemnly swore to execute their office with honor and impartiality, and then counted the votes. No appeals were requested and no chads were found hanging, so without further ado, here are the winners of the First Annual The Scientist Readers' Choice Awards!
Best Instrument Under $25,000
Winner: Peltier Thermal Cycler DNA Engine
(MJ Research, 888-735-8437, www.mjresearch.com)
The Peltier Thermal Cycler (PTC)-200 DNA Engine™ from MJ Research of Waltham, Mass., was the crowd favorite in this category. The PTC-200 features a single programmable base unit and interchangeable Alpha™ module sample-block/heat-pump assemblies. According to Alex Vira, thermal cycler product manager, the most popular configuration is the 96V Alpha unit, which is capable of holding 96 0.2-ml tubes or one 96-well plate, and can carry out gradient operations. The second most popular configuration is a dual-block assembly that allows independent control of two sets of 48 0.2-ml reactions each. Other Alpha units can hold a 384-well plate, 60 0.5-ml tubes, 30 0.5-ml and 48 0.2-ml tubes, a flat plate for microarrays, or two sets of 16 microscope slides. (List price: $7,500 US)
Best Instrument $25,000-$100,000
Winner: ABI PRISM 7000 Sequence Detection System
(Applied Biosystems, 650-638-5800 / 800-345-5224, www.appliedbiosystems.com)
The ABI PRISM® 7000 Sequence Detection System, a real-time PCR instrument from Foster City, Calif.-based Applied Biosystems, got the nod as the Best Instrument Between $25,000 and $100,000. The 7000 contains a 96-well Peltier-based thermal cycling system, a tungsten-halogen excitation source, and a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera for fluorescence detection. A four-color filter wheel enables detection of multiple fluorophores for multiplexed assays. The system comes bundled with a notebook computer running Microsoft Windows 2000; software for instrument control, data collection, and data analysis; and a design program for primers and probes called Primer Express®. ABI supports both SYBR Green and fluorogenic 5'-nuclease (TaqMan®) chemistries on the instrument, says product manager Tala de los Santos. Applications include gene expression quantification, pathogen detection, and allele discrimination (SNP analysis). (List price: $47,250 US)
Best Instrument Over $100,000
Winner: Confocal Laser-Scanning Microscope LSM 510 META
(Carl Zeiss, Advanced Imaging Microscopy Group, 800-233-2343, www.zeiss.com/micro)
Readers picked the Confocal Laser Scanning Microscope LSM 510 META from Carl Zeiss of Jena, Germany, as the winner in the Best Instrument Over $100,000 category. Featuring Zeiss' Axioplan 2 (upright), Axioskop 2 FS (fixed-stage upright), and Axiovert 200 (inverted) microscopes and a compact, transferable scanning module, the LSM 510 META can detect up to eight channels (fluorescent or transmitted light) simultaneously. According to Sebastian Tille, LSM product manager, the 510 META is the first LSM that can clearly separate overlapping emission spectra of multiple fluorescent dyes, employing a new method called emission fingerprinting. A complete image acquisition and analysis system, the 510 META includes a computer with software for control of the microscope and scanning system, image capture and analysis, and data management. Earlier in the year, the 510 META won one of R&D magazine's R&D 100 awards. (List price: Starting at $250,000)
Most Useful Scientific Software Package
Winner: GraphPad Prism
(GraphPad Software, 858-457-3909, www.graphpad.com)
San Diego-based GraphPad Software's GraphPad Prism® garnered the Readers' Choice Award for Most Useful Scientific Software Package. Available for both PC and Macintosh-based computers, Prism offers a combination of graphing, curve fitting, and biostatistics functions in a convenient and organized manner, says Sally Montiano, marketing director. The program was written by scientists, not statisticians, she says. "Some products have more features, but they're not necessarily features life scientists need most," she explains. "And those features sometimes get in the way of analyzing your data." Among Prism's features: simple curve fitting; automatic error-bar generation; and graphs linked to underlying data, so that, as the user changes input values, the graphs are updated automatically. A new version of Prism (4.0) is slated for release in Spring 2003.
Most Useful Kits
Winner: QIAGEN Nucleic Acid Purification Kits
(QIAGEN, 800-426-8157, www.qiagen.com)
Netherlands-based QIAGEN took this year's Most Useful Kits award for its wide range of nucleic acid purification kits. The company's kits accommodate a range of throughputs, formats, and purity levels. For instance, QIAGEN's Ultrapure 100 column allows a researcher to purify up to 100 mg of plasmid DNA from a single 20-liter sample, while the microR.E.A.L. Prep 384 Plasmid Kit generates about 1.5 µg of DNA from 300-µl samples in 2 x 384-well plates. QIAGEN's most popular kit for low-throughput tasks is the QIAprep Spin miniprep kit, yielding up to 20 µg of plasmid DNA from up to 10-ml cultures. QIAGEN also offers kits for purification of genomic DNA, RNA, and PCR products in various formats. Most of these kits can be used on QIAGEN's BioRobots or other equipment for fully automated processing.
Most Helpful or Responsive Technical support
(Invitrogen, 800-955-6288, www.invitrogen.com)
Invitrogen, headquartered in Carlsbad, Calif., took home the honor of Most Helpful or Responsive Technical Support. Emi Hendricks, Invitrogen's technical service manager, attributes the company's success in this category to its corporate mission. Invitrogen's focus, she says, is enabling researchers to do their work faster and better. "The whole organization is interested in the success of our customers," she explains, "and we in technical service see ourselves as a critical juncture in the relationship." Invitrogen's technical support department is staffed by scientists with an average of eight to 10 years of lab experience. These support representatives hail from a wide range of life science disciplines, with the majority, says Hendricks, possessing postgraduate degrees.
Most Informative or Best-Designed Web Site
Winner: National Center for Biotechnology
Readers picked the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Web site as the Most Informative or Best-Designed Web Site of 2002. No wonder: the NCBI logs nearly 25 million hits per day, representing 240,000 discrete user sessions, says David Wheeler, NCBI staff scientist. GenBank, the NCBI's primary DNA repository, houses nearly 18 million sequences totaling 22 billion nucleotides. Researchers run approximately 100,000 BLAST (basic local alignment search tool) searches a day against that data set. And PubMed, the NCBI's literature search tool, logged over 30 million searches in August 2002 (the most recent data available). Summarizing the NCBI's success, director David Lipman says the Center has tried to focus on those areas where it can make the most impact. He adds that the NCBI's affiliation with both the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, under the aegis of the Department of Health and Human Services, has helped by providing both a 150-year-long tradition of excellence and a vibrant community of users. But ultimately, he says the NCBI benefits most from the people who staff it. "We have been able to recruit and retain exceptionally talented people who seem to like what they're doing."
When it comes to cool, The Scientist readers were conflicted. It seems they couldn't decide, in the Coolest Design category, between Eppendorf's microcentrifuges and Apple Computer's iMac. We were left with a tie. Eppendorf's Personal MiniSpin® centrifuges quietly spin as many as 12 1.5-ml tubes at up to 14,000 x g. Then, when the run is over, pop!--the lid opens automatically. As Andy Aguirre, centrifuge product manager for Brinkmann, Eppendorf's US distributor, describes it, these centrifuges--only slightly larger than a computer mouse--resemble the video game character, Pac Man. Now the Hamburg, Germany-based company is offering a night-sky blue version--the "Conquer Space" Limited Edition MiniSpin plus--emblazoned with images of the planets on its dome, to give the lab a celestial touch.
Meanwhile, the newest member of Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple's successful iMac product line features a 17-inch widescreen flat display perched over a dome-shaped, 10.6-inch-diameter base. It boasts an 800-MHz PowerPC G4 processor, up to 1 GB RAM, 80 GB disk space, built-in 56K modem and Ethernet ports, and an optional SuperDrive that can read and write both CDs and DVDs. Add to this an NVIDIA GeForce4 MX graphics unit, and you have all the ingredients necessary for both serious work and serious fun.
(Gilson Inc., 800-445-7661, www.gilson.com)
Middleton, Wis.-based Gilson took home the award for Best Gadget for its venerable Pipetman products. In the survey, a gadget was defined as a small piece of equipment that is useful in research work, and it's hard to imagine a more useful-indeed, more central-piece of lab equipment than a pipette, or manual liquid handler. First introduced in the 1970s, the Pipetman line now includes a variety of both fixed- and variable-volume options. In the more common variable-volume line Gilson offers eight choices, ranging from the P2 to the P10ml, allowing researchers to pipette from 0.5 ml to 10 ml. The fixed-volume line has 13 options for handling from 2 to 1,000 ml. The ergonomically designed variable-volume Pipetman features one-handed volume adjustment, a large volume indicator window, and easy maintenance.
So that's it, folks! To the winners, The Scientist extends its warmest congratulations, and an invitation to attend the awards ceremony, Dec. 16, at the American Society for Cell Biology annual meeting in San Francisco. To those companies that didn't take home the gold, there's always next year. Finally, to the participants--the readers like you who made it happen--"Thank you!" And remember: Keep reading The Scientist to find out when you can make your voice heard yet again.
Jeffrey M. Perkel can be contacted at email@example.com.