Smart Labs Toolkit

Engaging Laboratory Researchers Stirs Cultural Shift Through a Lab Equipment Sharing Program at University of Colorado

Today's laboratories are facing increasing competition for funding, as well as the pressure to expand lab space, sometimes in constrained campus locations. Instead of expanding outward, the University of Colorado, Boulder's (CU Boulder) innovative BioCore program turned its attention inward to more efficiently manage, account for, and share equipment across laboratories. One and a half years later, the BioCore program manages 85 shared laboratory instruments and works with 60 researchers across 18 laboratories.

The BioCore program is enhancing the sharing of less-expensive major equipment that many individual laboratories can typically afford on their own and, as a result, are less commonly shared compared to expensive equipment resources. This program is an example of the untapped potential that likely exists on most research campuses to optimize the use of existing laboratory equipment resources for the benefit of cost avoidance, improved scientist access to research equipment, and more efficient use of energy-intense lab space.

The BioCore program was launched in May 2018, with the goal of streamlining laboratory equipment sharing for three science departments on CU Boulder's campus. To lead the program, faculty, and staff worked together to hire a shared equipment manager. Within this role, the shared equipment manager is responsible for accessing, tracking, and repairing inventory; facilitating outreach; identifying research equipment resources that could be shared; and connecting scientists with instrumentation that they need whether it is located in a shared space or not.

Similar to other campus shared equipment facilities, this program is enabling CU Boulder researchers to avoid the purchase of equipment already present on campus, improve energy efficiency, and demonstrate compliance with Codes from Federal Regulations (2 CFR 200.313 (c)(2) and 2 CFR 200.318 (d) and (f)), while also enabling researchers to expand their research capabilities and be more strategic with the utilization of funding.

Since its implementation, the BioCore program has freed up space, improved laboratory organization, and led to cost savings. In the first 18 months, the BioCore program:

  • Saved more than 2,000 square feet of lab space by removing underutilized instruments and furniture
  • Led to $856,000 in avoided equipment costs
  • Saved researchers an estimated $39,000 in time.

Despite the program's success, the idea of sharing lab equipment can still concern some scientists who are worried that sharing equipment will increase contamination or that the instrumentation will not be properly cared for; however, in most cases these issues can be eliminated by having a skilled equipment manager in place to provide quality and consistent training to users and ensure proper maintenance of instrumentation.

While it is fair to be cautious of swapping equipment between labs and projects, contamination is a concern in all facilities, whether equipment is being shared or not. Through best practices, staff training, and thoughtful lab design, many steps can be taken to minimize the risks associated with shared facilities.

Overall, this project has grown the shared equipment culture and collaborative research environment within and between each of these three departments (and beyond) by fostering better communication between labs and improving researcher engagement. The program is being examined for implementation across different departments who could also benefit from sharing existing resources and cutting costs. See Appendix A in Shifting Culture Towards More Shared Equipment in Collaborative Spaces in Ramaley and Gold/Porter for EBIOM MCDB and IPHY for a full list of comments from researchers and staff using the BioCore.

Interested in Starting Your Own Lab Equipment Sharing Program?

Here are initial steps to start your own lab equipment sharing program.

  1. Review the report on the CU Boulder BioCore for additional information and lessons learned so you can make the business case for creating a shared equipment facility. Additionally, Appendices B through E in the report include useful information to help with creating a facility
  2. Begin hosting meetings or brown bag lunches to explore interest and ideas internally.
  3. Explore existing campus mission statements to support internal buy-in or begin to develop statements supported by your campus to build overarching vision statements that can be leveraged.
  4. Seek out funding opportunities from internal or external grant programs to hire a shared equipment manager to start the process.