Whether you’re a student, or a researcher, following proper procedure on the research you do is the only way to ensure its validity. The integrity of an experiment means everything, especially given the costs to perform it. Sometimes, academia or companies will utilize synthetic materials where possible to control costs, but the fact remains samples are often hard to come by. For this reason biological materials are still a mainstay.
A lot of good science comes down to being detail oriented, with the ability to plan ahead and anticipate potential disasters. From ethics to basics on handling materials, here are some of the best practices for researchers of every level.
Handling and Storing Organic Materials
One fundamental to an experiment is proper biological storage of all materials used. That may mean certain lighting conditions, humidity, temperature or a host of other variables. Even when moving a lab, experiments cannot simply stop.
When handling materials, particularly human fluids and tissues, it’s important proper clothing is worn, including gloves and other items necessary to cover all exposed skin. This is extremely important, as exposure can have serious consequences in the study of diseases. Also, be sure that equipment does not have cracks or breaks. Even tiny fractures can cause exposure dangers when used in a centrifuge.
Replace broken or damaged equipment liberally. Science can be expensive because of the cost of equipment, but it’s important to conduct every experiment safely in a manner that can be reproduced.
Every experiment, even the ones that some might consider “failures,” generates meaningful data for analysis. Recording and storing that data is a major part of research even if the work can feel menial. Before work begins, researchers should justify the need for the study and demonstrate how the testing methods will work.
Remember, documentation includes every phase of research. Even early planning stages. Keep detailed records that explain each step you took to get to your conclusions.
Storing data is equally important, especially when dealing with something like a human blood sample (which is identifiable). Remember that you are bound to secrecy and must take every precaution to be sure samples are safe from harm. Always get consent from patients, and be sure that you only review data in areas where doors and windows can be locked and you can verify you are alone.
Models vs Live Organisms
A major debate in science today is whether to use live human subjects versus proxy organisms or computer models. Virtual models can tell us a lot, but they rely on past data to project future outcomes. In some cases, utilizing live subjects or biological materials is unavoidable.
Smaller stand-in biological material such as worms or the fruit fly, with a genetic makeup similar to our own, are sometimes a type of model used by those running the experiment in question. Knowing how these react to certain stimuli, a researcher can extrapolate how humans might react. This allows them to design a protocol for human test subjects.
Using a virtual model might help us learn something related to a concept we already understand, but it generally won’t help us discover anything new. It may, for example, help understand how a pathogen might spread in the population.
In the end, ethics must drive everything a researcher does. If a computer model is a possibility to simulate the outcome of an experiment, it may be worth the effort to research what it might take to implement one.
In larger case studies, models are one of the best ways forward because they allow researchers to simulate the effect of a drug (such as those used to battle varying types of cancer), and figure out which of the drugs being tested would be most effective.
Researchers have a monumental task when conducting studies because the integrity of data is equally as important as the outcome of an experiment. Taking the time to do this quality assurance, and thinking through your plan, will lead to a sound conclusion worthy of scrutiny and further study