Tips on How to Pipette

Dec 17, 2014

how to pipette“While the science itself is complex, the labor involved in experimenting and engineering largely consists of sucking liquid out of one vial with a handheld instrument called a pipette and squirting it back into another one.” 1

When I was in graduate school, my labmates used to joke about how hard it would be to find a job if the science thing didn’t work out—the only thing we were really good at was moving small volumes of liquid from one place to another.  In retrospect, I’m wondering how good we really were at that. I never received much training in how to pipette, other than to be careful with viscous liquids and to not contaminate the inside of the pipette with radioactivity.

Fast forward fifteen years, and there I was teaching my group of high-school interns how to pipette. Having already experienced first-hand how important careful pipetting is for accuracy and reproducibility—a year of kinetic assays to obtain one Km will do that to you—I made sure to give them a better education.

With a button on top, using a pipette may seem very straightforward – just push that button and as you release it, extract the liquid.  Of course, it’s not really as easy as that.  Without good pipetting technique you may not be transferring the volume of liquid you think you are.  As a result, your experiments may not be as repeatable as you’d like. Remember the cloning trial that worked the first time but not the three times after that?  Did you pipette your restriction enzyme, stored in 50% glycerol, with the proper pipetting technique?

So what’s good pipetting technique look like? In the spirit of the end-of-the-year, when everyone is sharing their top twenty-five this, and favorite five that, I’d like to share a list of 10 Tips to Improve Your Pipetting Technique. Download the wall poster and/or watch the video to get better at accurate, reproducible pipetting.

Lastly, for a little end-of-the-year lightness, I found a couple of fun videos from academic labs who are all about celebrating this ubiquitous technique.

  • You’ll want to stay away from the pipetting technique used by some TV scientists! Check out Stanford Neuroblog’s “How Not to Use a Pipette
  • A research team at Memorial Sloan-Kettering created a clever “Don’t Stop Believing” parody as a birthday gift to their PI: Don’t Stop Pipetting

Happy pipetting in 2015!


Additional Resources

Learn more about pipetting technique


About the Author

Pia Abola

Pia Abola is a scientist who walked out of the lab five years ago and stumbled into the world of marketing. She never had to look back because it turns out that she’s mostly doing the same things–both her lab work and her marketing work revolve around signalling and information transfer. Chemical, biochemical, behavioral, or digital signals, the math is the same — it’s just scale and medium that differs.


Download the 10 Tips Wall Poster

The 10 Tips To Improve Your Pipetting Technique video series has been converted to a poster for you to post in your laboratory or classroom. Download the poster by filling out the form below.


References

1. Wohlsen, M. This Robot Could Make Creating New Life Forms As Easy As Coding An App. WIRED (2014).  at http://www.wired.com/2014/11/opentrons-bio-robots?utm_content=buffer69c3c