Blog Articles

5 Ways to Make Pipetting A More Approachable Topic

Akanksha Saxena
Teaching with Labster

5 Ways to Make Pipetting A More Approachable Topic

Introduction: Pipetting

When you enter biological labs and plan technical microscale experiments, measurements using volumetric glassware like measuring cylinders, volumetric flasks, graduated cylinders, beakers, Mohr pipettes and burettes become difficult. The use of micropipettes is recommended to overcome inaccuracies in measurements and make them precise. Micropipettes are calibrated from time to time to avoid any suboptimal measurements.

Students are primarily taught about micropipettes in their high school but lack practical handling. Mostly, the first experience is gained when students enter universities and colleges. Since pipetting is majorly a time-learned skill, students hesitate to make a perfect choice in their initial lab experiments. 

When lab handling is restricted, the topic of pipetting sometimes becomes a nightmare for educators to teach in their classes. With no pipette at disposal in high schools, educators witness students either cramming pipette types as just another lab handling topic or moving past the same. This hits back hard when students join colleges and universities and don’t know the basics of handling the lab equipment. 

For teachers and educators dealing with the subject of pipetting, we have gathered some resources in this article. As you read, you’ll see the basic issues that students face while learning to pipet. We’ll also provide some practical solutions to overcome those issues. We, at Labster, understand that teachers and educators, though passionate about their respective subjects, can sometimes lack of resources and guidance. 

Read on to gain handy perspectives. By the end, we’ll convince you why a virtual lab simulation will prove wondrous not only for your students but also for you as an educator to deliver concepts more efficiently.

pipette 3

Figure: An interactive image showing the desk setup for micropipette handling in a lab setup. It ensures that your students understand the difference between 2 stops in the micropipette plunger. It is available in the Pipetting: Selecting and Using Micropipettes Virtual Lab simulation from Labster and is available for High School, University/College and Professional courses.

3 reasons why Pipetting can be tricky to teach or learn

There are 3 major reasons why students are can be nervous about the topic of Pipetting. Acknowledging these issues is the first step toward making the topic more approachable. 

1. Finding it hard to interconvert measurement units

This is the primary reason that students falter when introduced to pipette handling. Let’s say your student is instructed by you to measure 2mL of NaCl solution and 2μL MgCl2. This is perplexing for students as the units are not clear to them. Interconversions between different units like liter (L), milliliters (mL), microlitre (μL), etc. become petrifying in lab sessions. Not knowing how many μL makes 1mL is a basic yet commonly encountered problem amongst the majority of the students. Even if they figure out the answer to this question, they fail to make the correct choice amongst a variety of pipettes that are available in the lab.

2. Misunderstanding in practical lab handling

Since most of the students don’t get a regular chance to deal with micropipettes, they feel underconfident while handling them once in a new moon. Unawareness of the different parts of a micropipette and the mechanism of working can not only damage the equipment but can also lead to incorrect measurements. It requires proper handling with the care that further requires one to know the parts of the pipette; both of which are usually skipped in classroom teaching.

3. Lack of video graphic tutorials 

Since practical handling only becomes a daily affair in one’s graduate (Ph.D.) program research, students who are already at a loss of experience crave video graphical tutorials. Due to the lack of the same in the public domain, even educators are left with no choice but to demonstrate the technique and then leave students in their own hands to figure things out. 

5 ways to make Pipetting a more approachable topic to understand

To address the issues encountered while teaching Pipetting, educators can engage the under-listed solutions in their next classes. These can clarify many instrumental aspects of the major handling techniques involved. Not only can they make teaching easier for educators like you but will also make lessons clearer and easier to assimilate for your students.

1. Use well-designed experiments

Teaching intricacies of pipetting technique like the ‘2 places where the micropipette’s plunger stops’ or ‘upper and lower limits of the micropipettes/measuring range’ or ‘contamination risks involved when you don’t hold the pipette upright’ are difficult to assimilate in theoretical classes. Furthermore, if you just place all the micropipettes on the working slab and use them in a defined order, students fail to make the right choice when a real-time experiment has to be run and they are supposed to randomly switch between the different options depending upon the need.

That’s why we recommend teaching these basics but in the course of a well-designed experiment. You can set a protein content quantification experiment using the Bradford assay. Here, as your students will be expected to prepare multiple serial dilutions, they can actively learn the “art of rapidly switching micropipettes” as the dilution demands.

Figure:An interactive image showing the experiment of Bradford Assay where pipetting gains prime importance. It is available in the Pipetting: Master the technique Virtual Lab simulation from Labster and is available for High School, University/College and Professional courses.

2. Simplify the concepts and calculations

Teaching Basic Unit Conversions: Since basic unit conversions are often tricky for some students, making them easily memorable is a task for educators. You can make simple mnemonics for making the memorization game fun and useful. Litre, milliliter and microlitre are the most commonly looked out units when dealing with pipetting. Little Millie Macroni (L, mL, μL) could serve the purpose; each one of them varying by a factor of 10-3.

Teaching Serial Dilutions: Serial Dilutions are another important topic that needs attention in classes. These are stepwise dilutions (hence called ‘serial’) for diluting the concentration of a substance in a given solution by a defining factor. Mostly the factor remains the same in consecutive serial dilutions. Even in the Bradford assay, your students can engage and learn the concept of serial dilutions as they make a set of them for their concentration curves.

Similarly, you can plan the small yet important topics that make the whole pipetting handling an art. When your students have robust foundations, working in a lab setup solves half of their issues.

gloves pipette

Figure:An interactive image showing the desk importance of wearing gloves in GLPs. It is available in the Pipetting: Selecting and Using Micropipettes Virtual Lab simulation from Labster and is available for High School, University/College and Professional courses.

3. Tips and tricks from experienced educators can help in saving the days/experiments!

As educators have commonly handled these pipettes in their research works, some pieces of practical advice can help save the time and effort of your students. What you might be thinking of as a simple practice could be a valuable trick for your students to duck common issues. Some of the Good Lab Practices (GLPs) recommended by us are:  

  • Always having a waste disposal beaker for the used tips while you’re micro pipetting can help you keep track of keeping the different solutions sterile. When you conduct intensive experiments that require multiple pipetting events, disposing of the tip after every dispensation can ensure the same.

ejector pipette

Figure: An interactive gif showing the importance of micropipette tip disposal in a waste beaker. It is available in the Pipetting: Selecting and Using Micropipettes Virtual Lab simulation from Labster and is available for High School, University/College and Professional courses.

  • Never lay a micropipette down when it has a tip ON and it holds a solution. Holding the micropipette in any orientation except upright and sideways (that too up to a limit) can lead to contamination. 

  • Never use the pipette without a tip as aspirating liquids inside it can ruin the experimental results and will cause damage to internal machinery. This can cost you your time and money as repair and calibration of micropipettes costs a handsome amount.

  • Always releasing/resetting the micropipette is the MOST essential lab practice that not just students but research scholars also forget about. Any pipette that you see in the lab has a defined range for measurements, let’s say 100-1000μL. 100μL is the lower limit, meaning the minimum amount of any liquid that you can measure using this particular pipette is only 100μL. If you wish to measure anything below 100μL, you should use a different pipette and not forcibly try to move the adjustment thumbwheel below 100μL. Similarly, the maximum amount measurable is 1000 μL. 

Releasing/resetting the pipette after every use is very important as it relieves the tension on the internal spring mechanism of the equipment. This increases the durability and life of the equipment.

Similarly, you can emphasize ‘avoiding contamination by not touching the tips with hands’, ‘mild pressing of micropipettes to the tip box to pick tips’, ‘using the first stop of pipette plunger before dipping in the solution and filling it, ‘using the second stop of pipette plunger while releasing/delivering the solutions, and many more tricks and tips for smooth work for your students in the lab. 

thumbwheel pipette

Figure:An image showing how to use thethumbwheel of the pipette to set the volume between the upper and lower volume limits. It is available in the Pipetting: Selecting and Using Micropipettes Virtual Lab simulation from Labster and is available for High School, University/College and Professional courses.

4. Showing the variety of pipettes available to ease the lab work for students

Students are always looking out for options of equipment that can ease their lab work and manual labor. If you show them the variety of pipettes that are available for different measurements, it can motivate them to learn the handling. From 1000μL to 200μL, 100μL, 20μL, 10μL, and 2.5μL, the variety is wide-ranged. Showing them pictures and videos of scientists using multi-channel pipettes for high throughput liquid handling can make them curious. These are used for dispensing the liquid solutions in multiple replicates at a time. Not only does it ease the lab work for students, but also makes high-end science evolve faster where manual labor is reduced to a minimum and intellectual thinking gains more importance. 

pipette 4


Figure: An image showing the variety of micropipettes available in the lab. It is available in the Pipetting: Master the technique Virtual Lab simulation from Labster and is available for High School, University/College and Professional courses

5. Use virtual lab simulations

Since students often refrain from pipette handling in their early years of education, the lack of practical experience makes them undervalue this art. A lack of visually interactive video options further aggravates the situation for them. Since educators understand the need for practical handling and visual tutorials, we at Labster have brought a solution for you. You can use the Pipetting: Master the technique Virtual Lab simulation and Pipetting: Selecting and Using Micropipettes Virtual Lab simulation provided by Labster for delivering more interactive pipette handling lessons in your next class. 

Your students can learn more as they visualize the different parts and functions of a micropipette. They can also learn about GLPs and the importance of sterile lab work. 

The virtual laboratory simulations from Labster ease your process of lecture delivery as well as lab handling sessions. You can make more insightful points as students are rendered with better visual options. Our interactive simulations bring gamification elements to the rescue. By using this way of active and immersive teaching, our virtual learning platform takes an advent in the field of Science to make the upcoming scientists thorough with the “basics of their respective subjects”. 

You can learn more about the Pipetting: Master the technique Virtual Lab simulation and Pipetting: Selecting and Using Micropipettes Virtual Lab simulation from Labster here or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

pippette gif

Figure: An interactive gif showing the different stops of the plunger and the reset position of the micropipette. It is available in the Pipetting: Master the technique Virtual Lab simulation from Labster and is available for High School, University/College and Professional courses.

Signup for a 30-Day Free Trial of Labster