How research labs are harnessing the power of social media
A clever new startup helps scientists manage inventory, share supplies and cut down on environmentally harmful waste.
Even under the umbrella of a large university, research labs often operate like tiny private islands, with little communication or ability to share knowledge and materials. Now there is a solution. It's called Labsuit, a new online social platform designed especially for research laboratories to manage their inventories, get additional supplies and reduce the amount of hazardous waste sent to landfills.
Alex Domeshek, an engineer trained at the Technion Institute of Technology in Israel, came up with the idea for LabSuit when his wife, Helen Rabinowitz, was still a Ph.D. candidate in Technion's chemistry department. Along with other duties, she was in charge of managing inventory and waste disposal, which was eating into her research time.
News of Domeshek’s new platform spread across campus, and in just a few months it had become a nationwide social network and the couple realized they had a startup on their hands. The company was formally launched in 2013 with the help of their friend Ira Blekhman, an MBA student at Open University in Israel.
Before, technicians had to log materials into tedious Excel spreadsheets. The names of lab chemicals are often long and difficult to spell, and mistakes were common. If inventory items aren’t checked in accurately, the lab can’t rely on its management system.
LabSuit uses algorithms that predict what a lab technician is trying to spell, saving time and preventing errors. When new products arrive or when a lab runs out of a chemical, there are large, easy-to-read buttons that allow a technician to quickly and accurately report the status of an item.
“A good inventory management system has to be very simple to operate, especially the check-in operation and check-out operations,” Domeshek told From the Grapevine.
While LabSuit is not the first digital lab management platform, it is the first to integrate the social network aspect, which helps labs communicate and share materials. When one lab runs out of a certain chemical, they may not be able to wait even a couple of days for an order from a commercial supplier. If another lab on campus or at a nearby university has what’s needed, that chemical can be obtained in a few hours or less.
“In general, researchers are very good citizens, and they are willing to share resources with one another. The overall chemical set that LabSuit manages for any given geographical area is very rich; therefore it’s very helpful for researchers,” Domeshek said. “LabSuit was inspired by the sharing economy.”
The LabSuit platform is an inventory management system that leverages social sharing between laboratories. (Photo: LabSuit/Background vectors by Freepik)
No money is exchanged on LabSuit, except to pay for shipping. When one lab supplies another with a chemical, they get a credit to use to obtain another material at another time on the system.
The social aspect combined with the intuitive inventory management system cuts down on double orders and helps excess chemicals in one lab become needed supplies in another, reducing the amount of chemicals that find their way to a landfill. If another lab doesn’t have what a researcher needs, the platform integrates with commercial suppliers to make price comparisons and ordering easy.
The LabSuit platform is free for use in academic research labs. “We want LabSuit to be a game-changer in research labs,” Domashek told us. The company model relies on charging suppliers for product exposure among prospective clients.
Now there are more than 1,000 researchers in 200 Israeli laboratories using LabSuit, and the company is beginning to expand internationally. LabSuit is now being used in a number of universities in the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe and at the University of Utah, where several labs are using the system in a pilot project.
Elvira Haimov, a chemistry doctoral student at the Technion Institute of Technology in Israel, says using LabSuit cut the time she spent per week with inventory management from two hours to 10 minutes. “Every time we ran out of something, we had to start chasing down suppliers, which consisted of logging into their Internet system to search for materials, comparing prices to quality and checking delivery service … Labsuit helped us get out of this vicious cycle,” she remarked in a press release.
LabSuit also hopes that doctoral students who have used the platform during their studies will take it with them into commercial research labs once they graduate.
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