The Robot-Maker

Oliver de Peyer has invented a robot to do all the mundane experiments that biochemists would rather not do.

I’m installing a robot to carry out many automatic biochemistry experiments. It fills up a large room. It’s made up of many trays of mini test tubes, which hold liquids, and they move around on a sort of railway. A robot arm with a gripper moves the plates between the different pieces of apparatus for various experiments.

‘It can get very lonely in the lab.’

My plan is to do more experiments in less time, and for less money.
The room I work in is a lab in an academic research institute. In a typical day, I spend about half of the time at my computer programming my robot, and about the other half tinkering with it.
On a good day, I get some cooperation with my robot. Or I think of something that no one has thought of before. It was fantastic when we found out we’d got the money to build the robot – I went wild!

On a bad day, for no reason nothing seems to work – on these days, I find myself standing outside my institute on the way home, yelling obscenities at the brickwork.
It gets very lonely in a lab with only a robot for company, so I make a point of ambling along the corridor to say hi to my colleagues in other labs. I also try to synchronise my lunch and tea breaks with other people. There are always plenty of emails flying around.

My robot does everything. I mean it. It is made from many pieces of equipment from different companies – it has a ‘jumble sale’ look to it. Think of an experiment and then ring me up – chances are I could buy it and fit it in somehow.

Oliver de Peyer, post-doctoral researcher, MRC National Institute for Medical Research, London

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