Scientific Experience | On the Bench

The Tediousness of Finding Product Alternatives Before Beginning A Scientific Experiment

When you think about starting a new experiment, you probably think: Exciting, daunting,hopeful, time-consuming, challenging…

You may also think:

I need to have all my supplies together.
I hope my experiment is well-designed with necessary controls.
I hope I can execute this with no hiccups.
I hope I get good data.

How about the process before starting the experiment? All those mental decisions BEFORE even placing an order? I know, groan.

.  .  .

You might be able to relate to this process…
Before even beginning a new cell culture experiment, I will need…

Find a cheaper alternative

1. Cell culture media with Fetal Bovine Serum

Task: FBS is so expensive. I want a cheaper alternative.


  • *Googles*
  • Wow, Millipore Sigma has about 10 options. So does Thermo Fisher. Why different costs?
  • Why do I have to click on each item to get pricing?
  • Is there a way to compare products?
  • FBS is just FBS, right? Should I just pick the cheapest one and hope for the best?
  • On second thought, maybe I should use what we’ve always used.
  • But I can save $200/bottle….
  • If something goes wrong with my experiment, then that will waste my time. I might as well stick to what I know.
  • Unavailable!! No!!! I guess I’ll pick the cheaper option and cross my fingers.

Find the right match

2. Sterile DMSO

Task: I need a highly pure DMSO as a vehicle, which is a common organic solvent, but I
also need it to be cell culture friendly.


  • There are several options through Sigma but can they be used for cell culture?
  • There is an option for cell culture but I am not sure about its purity.
  • *Opens spec sheet for each option for further reading*
  • *Clicks, clicks, clicks*
  • According to this spec sheet, the option we use for organic synthesis can be sterilized for cell culture if I use a sterile filter…
  • Maybe I should consult Google again.
  • Back to square one. Maybe I’ll just order the 99.9% pure DMSO that I will sterilize myself.

Find a well-cited product

3. ELISA kit

Task: I need a specific ELISA kit that I do not have personal experience with.


  • The reference paper does not say where they ordered the ELISA kit! Sigh.
  • *Googles*
  • Wow, several to choose from. Why the huge price range?
  • What’s the assay range? Sensitivity? What kind of antibody do they use? What end of the protein does it recognize? Cross-reactivity? How long will the assay take?
  • *Creates detailed spreadsheet*
  • Well, the cheapest kit satisfies my criteria but I am not sure if I can trust it? Has anyone published on it?
  • Maybe I will order this moderately expensive kit that has been cited a few times.

Find a reliable product

4. Tubes

Task: We ran out of the special tubes. My supervisor just asked me to see if there are
cheaper alternatives because we’ve just been blowing through them.


  • Let me pull up our preferred vendors…
  • And *Google*…
  • Here’s a cheap one. But how do I know that it’s good quality and that the plastic won’t break? Is it pre-sterilized?
  • Maybe I’ll just order a small batch and perhaps stick to what we know for now.
  • Wait, these tubes are out of stock too?
  • Hmmmm, maybe I’ll try the cheaper one…

.  .  .

Well folks, I am exhausted. I just spent half the day deciding on what to get for this new experiment. All these browser tabs are making my head spin. I wish there was an easier way to decide on products or alternatives so I can actually be excited about beginning my experiment!

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