Work space

Houston scientist creates a DIY lab concept for flexible and efficient work

The DIY lab, called the eVOLVER, costs $2,000 less than a comparable setup. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Every scientist needs his or her own space, and each discipline calls for different types of tools and space requirements. Caleb Bashor, a professor at Rice University, along with seven colleagues, created a DIY lab to further research efforts based at the university.

Stemming from the need of a more customized study, Bashor and his team created a setup that combines the control of automated cell-culturing systems that can run continuously for months with the scale of high-throughput systems that grow dozens of cultures at once, according to a news release issued by Rice University.

The DIY lab, eVOLVER, comprises three modules: a customizable "smart sleeve" housing and interface for each culture vessel, a fluidic module that controls movement of liquid in and out of each culture vessel, and a modular hardware infrastructure that simplifies high-volume bi-directional data flow by decoupling each parameter into individual microcontrollers.

"The prototype 16-chamber version of eVOLVER described in the new paper cost less than $2,000, cheaper than what a lab might pay for a single continuous culture bioreactor," Bashor says in the release.

Bashor, who has been at the university since 2017, has worked in science for 15 years and received his post doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he met many of his colleagues that collaborated on eVOLVER.

"If you don't have something to do the job in the lab, you go and you build it," says Bashor. "It might take a few rounds of building and rebuilding, but eventually you get around to having it be something that gives you what you want. In this case, it's something a lot of different academic labs want now, we have actually given this out to dozens of labs."

The DIY initiative has made waves throughout the Rice student body, Bashor shares with InnovationMap. One graduate student, Brandon Wong, tasked to help with the project has shared a how-to for the DIY lab online.

"It's a basic research tool, it's exciting," says Bashor. It's something that can be leveraged for a lot of great research projects inside of the university."

Bashor and his team in the bioengineering department support lead cellular and biomolecular engineering research, which led them to create the lab.

"We turned to DIY electronics and we decided to build it ourselves," Bashor tells InnovationMap. "The process took about three years. We had to learn all of the tools that were out there for doing DIY work and a lot of these tools have showed up in the last ten years."

Rice University's department of bioengineering is a member of the Texas Medical Center and hosts interdisciplinary training programs at MD Anderson Cancer Center and Baylor College of Medicine, according to the school's website.

"This is one of the biggest centers in the world for immunotherapy, particularly clinical immunotherapy, and so we're working with people who do immunotherapy using my special engineering techniques, which mostly involve engineering the way that cells behave to try to more effectively kill cancer," says Bashor.

Caleb Bashor and his associates created the lab. Photo courtesy of Rice University

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Building Houston

 
 

Gathering the right info was vital. Photo by Krisanapong Detraphiphat/Getty

It's there in their name, but how often does a human resources company actually put emphasis on the "human" part? If it's HR&P, the answer is "especially when it matters most."

Following the COVID-19 pandemic announcement, small businesses scrambled to get their Paycheck Protection Program applications and documents in order. Up for grabs was a government-funded $349 billion in forgivable loans to help pay salaries, utilities, and other necessary expenses while businesses weathered the medical and economic storm. And if a business didn't have a company like HR&P on its side, its chances at obtaining a PPP loan weren't nearly as high.

"The PPP loan process required a great deal of HR information, and the requirements seemed to keep changing," says David Gow, CEO of Gow Media (the parent company of InnovationMap). "So we reached out to HR&P a number of times with requests, questions, etc. And each time HR&P assembled a full team to help us. I eventually started calling them 'the dream team,' because the team at HR&P had all the answers."

"As soon as the banks got set up to process these loans, the funds were gone. Every second mattered," says Kris Osterman, HR&P's CFO. "The CARES act is over 800 pages long — our team divided it in sections, and quickly went through it to find the parts that mattered to our clients. We had to make sure we had what we thought the banks needed — the information coming from the treasury was vague at the start — we had to make interpretations and apply our technical knowledge to gather what was ultimately needed for each client. A rapid response was critical."

Working (often remotely) around the clock, through that first weekend, and then several others, HR&P's team was in constant communication with its clients and their SBA lenders. At the end of the day, it was the community-based companies like HR&P that shined over their larger, more bureaucratic counterparts. The blitz of ambiguous COVID-19 relief legislation was an incubator for chaos in the financial and human resource communities. Most payroll companies simply could not respond with a level of intimacy required to support a company's specific needs. HR&P had the agility to navigate these moving targets and swiftly personalize service for their clients.

"Everyone had a different interpretation of the legislation, and there were inconsistencies in what was being requested from each financial institution. Corroborating the requests and staying in constant communication with the client was imperative," says HR&P's VP of client relations, Kevin Roblyer. "They could literally get ahold of us on a Sunday, where other providers were not available or couldn't provide that localized presence."

"All the lenders and financial institutions were asking for different information," says John McKay, HR&P VP of operations. "HR&P is entirely customizable. Our development team can quickly create functionality and generate reporting capabilities for each individual client and their bank's needs."

More importantly, "being able to speak to a designated HR&P representative was very important to limit client anxiety," says Chris Fisher, HR&P's VP of sales.

Thanks to years of expertise and a deep knowledge of its clients, HR&P played a critical role in securing vital PPP funds for many small and mid-sized businesses.

"It took a lot of creativity," says Fisher. "And everything changed with the second round of funding in April. Because of our high touch service model, our clients were prepared and more equipped to succeed."

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