Help… I Need a Microplate Reader! What Do I Need and What Do I Buy?

Help… I Need a Microplate Reader!
Help… I Need a Microplate Reader!

Can you please help me, I need a microplate reader?  I get this question several times a week from researchers in biotech and academic labs. They need a solution and in most cases they are lost in the sea of choices.  Navigating the microplate reader market can be an arduous and confusing voyage with perils and a cast of characters that rival Homer’s Odyssey; so like Odysseus you must choose correctly or make the wrong choice and pay dearly. 

There are many types of microplate readers and every year new and more advanced readers are being launched; some are impressive in their capabilities (capabilities more complex than you may ever need) while others are the same old technologies with updated, more user-friendly software or a new paint job.  Price ranges for readers are anywhere from $3,500 dollars to $500,000 plus, so choose wisely.

The first and most important step before you embark on your voyage is to understand your application and secondly is how you plan on using it, so here are a few questions from the Oracle you need to answer: 

* Will this microplate reader be used for a specific application or will it be used as a general purpose device?

* What microplate reader are you now using or have you used in the past?

* What microplate formats will you be working with?  Examples are 96-well, or 384-well, or 1536-well plates, or a combination?

* What detection modes are best suited for your application? Examples are Absorbance (Vis & UV), Fluorescence, Fluorescence Polarization (FP), Luminescence (Glow, Luciferase, other) or more specialized modes like Time-Resolved Fluorescence (TRF), TR-FRET (HTRF, Lance), AlphaScreen, Scintillation (Beta & Gamma), or others. 

* Will you need top & bottom optics?

* What is the sensitivity level required by your application?

* Will you need sample tracking and barcode reading?

* Will you need on-board injectors?  Does your application require this feature?

* Will you need on-board stackers for walk-away/unattended operation?

* Will you use this reader as a stand-alone device or do will you plan on integrating the reader to an automated system?  For instance, a robotic arm, a liquid handler, a plate washer, a plate sealer, a plate labeler, a plate handler/stacker, a plate dispenser,  a storage device or another device.

* What is your daily throughput?

* Do you have any brand preference?  Manufacturer’s from BMG Labtech, Beckman Coulter, BioTek, Molecular Devices, Perkin Elmer, Tecan, Thermo Scientific, or other.

* Do you have any space limitations?

* Will you need training?

* Will you need extended service or a service contract?

* How soon will you need a system in your lab? 

And the most important question is…. 

* What is your budget and can I get this approved? 

Again, you must choose wisely or suffer the wrath of Poseidon (your supervisor).

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