Advances in Technology Creating new Applications for Lab Equipment

For the majority of people, the only contact with the laboratory environment will have been through the medium of TV or movies with their stereotypical views of complex glassware, test tubes, and Bunsen burners under the watchful eyes of serious-looking, white-coated scientists and technicians. In practice, however, apart from the white coats and serious expressions, that image is now somewhat outdated and instead needs to be replaced by one more in keeping with the hi-tech computers and automated analysers that are the more typical items of lab equipment in use today.

This dramatic evolution has been driven by three main factors. Among them, the need for greater accuracy and specificity has, for example, seen the use of litmus paper replaced by pH meters and the demise of traditional qualitative chemical analyses performed in test tubes in favour of techniques such as gas chromatography. Such techniques, of course, are the result of a second driver – the steady advances in technology. Here, the accelerated progress achieved during the last decade or so has served to expand the scope of scientific study to encompass a growing number of brand-new disciplines previously only the subject of dreams, while vastly enhancing the performance in existing areas.

One of the more striking examples is to be seen in the field of assisted human reproduction. Here, advances in the design of lab equipment for cryopreservation and the handling of microscopic cellular material has served to transform techniques such as in-vitro fertilisation that were once experimental procedures, into a routine service. Improved cryopreservation technology has also been instrumental in facilitating the storage and transport of human organs and bone marrow for transplantation purposes.

Yet another field in which advances have opened up many new and exciting possibilities, especially in medicine, is immunology. Laboratory tests that utilise the interaction of antigens and antibodies now make it possible to detect chemical markers that can indicate specific medical conditions including certain types of malignancy and provide an invaluable means to conduct screening operations.

The third factor that has been driving the need for new and improved lab equipment is demand. Not all testing is confined to medical laboratories and research facilities. Water purification plants and the food and beverage industry also have a need for stringent testing. Patients are also consumers and the vast growth in their numbers has created a need for rapid techniques that must still provide reliable results. Chemists and instrument manufacturers have responded with an array of test kits consisting of pre-prepared, purified reagents plus a compact, combined sample rack and colorimeter. Typically, such set-ups are designed to handle multiple samples and to return accurate and reproducible results in a fraction of the time required when employing more traditional methods. A classic example of this is the CDR system known as the Foodlab Touch that is designed to measure free fatty acids, peroxide value, soaps, and Anisidine value in oils and fats.

Keeping abreast of these advances and identifying their applications have been the role of one Pretoria-based company for more than 35 years. IEPSA is South Africa’s acknowledged leader in the supply of world-class lab equipment for research, education, medicine, and industry.

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