BioSurplus' Jim Hower.
BioSurplus’ Jim Hower.

One of the things we take great pride in at BioSurplus is our ability to help researchers and entrepreneurs set up new labs from scratch at affordable prices.

We carry all the equipment needed to set up a basic biological R&D lab, including cabinets, centrifuges, microscopes, pipettors, cold storage and small benchtop items such as water baths, vortexers and many others.

In a typical scenario, a customer will come to us with an equipment wish list and one of our experienced sales team members will help them find the right equipment to meet their needs.

In his five-plus years at BioSurplus, Jim Hower has helped put together countless start-up labs for new and returning customers.  I recently had the opportunity to talk to him about his process, and he shared his knowledge and recommendations.  Here’s what he had to say:


Jim Hower on Equipping a Start-up Lab

Start-up labs often send me lists of equipment without a lot of detail.  In order to help match them up with the right piece of equipment in our inventory, I always ask the customer a series of questions for each line item:

Hoods:  I start by asking the customer what type of hood they need – biological safety cabinet (BSC), laminar flow hood/clean bench, PCR enclosure or fume hood.  If they’re working with infectious micro-organisms and need a biosafety cabinet, it’s important for them to let me know if they want the HEPA-filtered air exhausted into the room or out of the room through a duct.

Most BSCs we sell are Class II, Type A2 (formally known as Type A/B3), which release the HEPA-filtered air into the room.  I also ask the customer what size they need their BSC to be.  The most popular sizes are four- and six-foot BSCs.

Customers often ask me if the BSCs have UV lights.  A majority of the BSCs BioSurplus sells are equipped with UV lights, so this is rarely an issue.

Click here for more information on hoods on the BioSurplus website.


Cold Storage:  I first ask my customers to specify if they need a refrigerator, freezer (-20C), refrigerator/freezer combo, or ultra-low freezer (-80 or greater).  I then ask the following questions:

  • Do you need an upright or chest model?
  • What size (cu. ft.) do you need?
  • What voltage do you need?
  • Do you need it to be flammable storage or explosion proof?

Cold-storage size is a very critical issue for customers.  Many clients often store a large number of samples and they need to make sure that they will fit in the refrigerator or freezer they purchase from us.

Another challenge is to make sure that the cold storage product isn’t too large for the customer’s lab space.  Since chest freezers take up the most floor space, they are usually less popular than the upright models.  Still, there are certain applications where customers prefer chest freezers, since the freezer racks are more convenient to use in these models.

Click here for more information on cold storage on the BioSurplus website.


Jim in the BioSurplus booth at ASCB.
Jim in the BioSurplus booth at ASCB.

Pipettors:  Almost every lab uses pipettors.  Each customer often has his or her own brand preference such as Eppendorf, Rainin, Gilson or VWR, and we sell all of these at BioSurplus.  We don’t sell tips, though.

When inquiring about pipettors, customers will tell us what volumes of liquid they need them to dispense.  It is very common for start-up labs to buy an entire set of pipettors from us so that they will be able to dispense any liquid volume they desire during their experiments (anywhere from 1uL to 1mL).

We sell both single-channel and multi-channel pipettors.  Some of them are automatic, but a majority of them are mechanical (meaning no batteries are required).  We don’t calibrate any of the pipettors we sell, and our customers rarely have any problem with this.

Click here for more information on pipettors on the BioSurplus website.


Centrifuges:  I ask the following questions when a customer is looking for a centrifuge:

  • Do you need a benchtop or floor model?
  • Are you spinning tubes or microplates?
  • If tubes, what size tubes are you going to be spinning, and how fast?  This is the most important question, as their response will tell me if they need a micro-centrifuge, basic centrifuge or ultra-centrifuge
  • Do you need the centrifuge to be refrigerated?
  • Do you want it to be analog or digital?  Customers usually prefer digital displays, as they will tell them the exact speed and time remaining during a spin
  • If spinning tubes, do you prefer a fixed-angle rotor or swinging-bucket rotor?

Most start-up labs purchase at least one micro-centrifuge and one benchtop centrifuge for 15mL or 50mL tubes.  Many of our centrifuges don’t include rotors, so we work with customers to find compatible ones in our inventory.  If we don’t have the rotors in stock, we usually offer a discount to help offset the cost of buying a new rotor.

Click here for more information on centrifuges on the BioSurplus website.


Microscopes:  Most start-up labs require a microscope of some sort.  I always ask the following questions:

  • Do you need the microscope to be set up for fluorescence, phase contrast, bright-field, or dark-field?
  • Do you need it to be upright (objectives located above the stage), or inverted (objectives located below the stage)?  The one exception to this is if they are looking for a stereomicroscope
  • What type of objectives do you need?
  • Do you need the microscope to have a camera attached?  Only a few of the microscopes we acquire include a camera, however customers can always purchase a camera elsewhere, if necessary

 Click here for more information on microscopes on the BioSurplus website.


CO2 Incubators:  When working with cell cultures, labs will need CO2 incubators.  We sell single incubators and double-stacked incubators.  I ask the customer to identify whether or not they need them to be water jacketed (most popular), or air jacketed (less popular).  Most of the incubators we carry have a stainless-steel interior (more popular), while some have a copper interior (less popular).


Balances:  Every lab needs a balance of some sort.  Analytical balances have a glass enclosure (draft shield), and are used for measuring very small masses (e.g. powders).

Customers tell me the maximum weight they need the balance to work for, as well as the readability, which determines how many decimal places the instrument displays.  Our most popular balances have readabilities that range from 1 mg to 0.01 mg.


Other Small Benchtop Equipment:  Other small benchtop items that many of our start-up customers purchase include vortexers, hot plates, stir plates, heated stir plates, water baths, orbital shakers and dry-bath incubators.  I often ask customers if they need these items to have digital or analog displays.

If you have any questions, or are looking to outfit your start-up lab, don’t hesitate to give me a call at 650-262-6672, ext. 303.