Dr Alex White is a member of staff in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Cardiff University.
The context for equipment sharing
Alex’s research involves the development of natural compounds that are clinically useful in chemotherapy. In order to investigate the extracts from natural resources Alex uses mass spectrometry equipment. He is able to perform routine and medium level sample screening locally, using his own equipment. However, he sometimes needs much higher resolution screening and for this he uses the facilities at Bath University.
Finding the equipment
Alex’s fairly ad-hoc arrangement to screen samples at Bath University was made some time ago through personal contact. He does not currently use equipment sharing platforms such as Jisc’s Equipment.Data to locate suitable facilities. However, the Bath University mass spectrometer facility is listed on the Equipment.Data service.
Accessing the equipment
The samples that Alex produces are not highly volatile or fragile. This means that they can be sent to Bath for scanning via Royal Mail. In some cases samples, normally based upon dried plant material, are already several years old when Alex works with them. Once they are prepared he phones the mass spectrometer facility manager at Bath to let them know he’d like them scanning and that he’ll be sending them shortly.
Alex feels that the levels of skills available from those operating equipment, like mass spectrometers, could be a major barrier to using facilities located elsewhere. He needs to be confident that the results are of a high quality and appropriate. The reports produced for him under his current arrangements with Bath are excellent and exactly what he requires.
Also, Alex feels that a poor relationship with the equipment operators could be an issue. His relationship with his colleagues at Bath means that he is able to easily discuss his results and ask for more detail on particular aspects if needed.
Benefits and the future
Not only is the arrangement with Bath very convenient, it is also is highly cost effective: it is much cheaper than similar commercial providers and is part of an agreement set up through GW4. The GW4 Alliance comprises of four of the most research-intensive and ambitious universities in the UK (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter). The GW4 has a research equipment database that lists facilities at the 4 universities and is based upon the Equipment.Data platform.
Additionally Alex is very happy with the high quality of the results that are produced and he values the skills of the staff at Bath.
From Bath’s perspective this arrangement provides them with income that contributes towards the costs of the facilities. It all helps to ensure that the utilisation of such equipment is at a high level.
The relationship Alex has built with colleagues at Bath means that they understand his data very well, also he feels that it may be possible for collaborative work between them to take place in future.
In terms of his future plans, Alex does not see a need for a wider equipment sharing arrangement, he is quite self sufficient for most of his requirements.
However, while the reports following screening created by Bath, are suitable for his needs, the primary screening raw data is lost. The files created are very large causing storage issues. He would like to have the use of a national storage facility where this raw data could be held. Then the data might be available for further processing in future. In creating such a service issues such as proprietary software licencing, storage costs, processing expertise and data ownership would need addressing.