Sample handling at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL)
With the objective of researching active ingredients for new pharmaceutical medicines, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) processes more than 200,000 crystalline samples per year. The samples are stored at almost negative 200 degrees Celsius and continuously analyzed in several test series in an electron synchrotron at room temperature.
The sample handling is highly automated and supported by robots. Continuous identification during the test series is ensured by labeling the sample holders with cryo-resistant HF RFID tags.
Richard Aufreiter, VP Product Marketing, Identification Technologies, HID Global explains in an interview with RFID & Wireless IoT Global, why the use of RFID tags is the best performing solution to ensure that not a single sample is lost in the automated process due to a missing tag.
Samples are Exposed to Ultra-Bright X-Rays
The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) supports researchers worldwide in gaining insight into the atomic and microscopic structure of crystal samples. The ESRF's electron synchrotron, located in the immediate vicinity of the EMBL site in Grenoble, generates X-rays that are 100 billion times brighter than the X-rays used in hospitals to analyze the crystalline samples.
The ESRF helps researchers worldwide to gain precise insights into the atomic and microscopic structure of the crystal samples. Biological materials are studied in the beamlines of the electron synchrotron in order to promote the development of highly eﬃcient medications, which, for example, should combat cancer more eﬀectively.
Extreme Temperature Fluctuations between Storage and Analysis
The samples are stored in analysis tubes at negative 196 degrees Celsius. Examinations and tests are partly carried out at room temperature. The temperature ﬂuctuations are enormous and components used, such as sample containers and sample holders, must withstand more than 500 cycles in individual cases.
The increasing number of samples per year presented EMBL with the decision to develop an automated sample handling system in 2018. A new sample holder standard in combination with a robot allows testing the growing number of samples without additional manual eﬀort.
Patented Method Creates Permanent Connection of Antenna and IC
HF RFID tags from HID are the key element in the highly automated, robot-assisted sample handling processes. "Not every RFID chip works permanently with consistent performance under these temperature conditions. Unsuitable materials can break, for example," reports Richard Aufreiter. "The transponder used for permanent identiﬁcation of the sample holders had to be as robust as possible, but also particularly small. Only six millimeters in diameter are available for inserting the tags into the sample holders."
EMBL is currently using customized 'Piccolino' tags from HID in the sample holders. The tags are manufactured using the patented 'DBondTM' process, in which the IC is connected directly to the antenna. "An additional module for connection is not necessary. At the same time, the patented bonding process increases the robustness of the tags."