Inside the Scientific Arsenal: Three Devices to Explore the Unknown

Photo of Sequencing Facility employee working with the NovaSeq 6000

“Here are lions.” This fanciful phrase for the unknown embellishes the blank areas of antiquated maps. Sometimes cartographers used the phrase “Terra Incognita” (“unknown land”) instead. Either way, the message was clear: we don’t know what’s beyond this point. The modern study of genetics is similar.


Inside the Scientific Arsenal: The High-Speed Racetrack That Can Make Proteins Explode

Photo of Ben Orsburn and coworker Carly Van Wagoner flanked by the Fusion and two other mass spectrometers

Ben Orsburn, Ph.D., stood in the middle of a 180-square-foot laboratory, speaking over the white noise that flooded the room. The source of the din—large, desk-sized objects called mass spectrometers—filled nearby rows of lab benches. Orsburn pointed to one along the periphery of the room, a white-and-black box with the words “Orbitrap Fusion” emblazoned on the front in small blue text.


Inside the Scientific Arsenal: A Nobel-Prize-Winning Method for 3D Modeling

Photo of the interior of a Titan Krios

Every Monday morning, Ulrich Baxa, Ph.D., and his colleagues enter their Gaithersburg, Md., laboratory and begin calibrating their Titan Krios, a massive, $7-million transmission electron microscope that can capture high-definition images at near-atomic magnification. They load several flash-frozen biological samples into the Krios and, by 5 p.m., program the instrument to collect data. As the team leaves for the evening, the Krios begins shooting beams of energy into the samples and taking photos.


Inside the Scientific Arsenal: The Two-Armed Tool That’s Faster Than a Scientist

odd Hartley working at a computer, with the Biomek in the background behind him

Sitting at a computer in an NCI at Frederick laboratory, Todd Hartley writes an automated method for an experiment. With a final swipe of the mouse, he clicks an on-screen button that says “Run.” The large device sitting to his left, a Biomek FXP Laboratory Automation Workstation, whirrs to life. A robotic arm hovers over a deck containing various microplates then lowers a group of pipette tips to draw liquid from a reservoir, raises and moves again, and deposits the fluid in a nearby microplate with superhuman accuracy.


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