The relationship between scientific research and technology is complex. Much like your nurse housemate and doctor cousin, on paper they should be a match made in Heaven. But sometimes things don’t always work out as you expect.
On the big-picture scale, scientific research is driven by technological progress. From the genesis of optogenetics in Neuroscience to the construction of vast particle accelerators in Physics. These technical advancements pave the way for scientific breakthroughs and create new ways of helping us unpick the natural world. But day-to-day benchwork feels a long way from these headline-grabbing achievements and requires a slight shift in priorities.
In scientific research – if it ain’t broke, don’t you even think about touching it!
For most scientists, there are two things that matter above all else: reliability and cost. Many techniques (e.g. Western Blotting) haven’t changed for decades because they are very reliable. Every lab will have their own ways of blotting which they trust wholeheartedly. They may even admit that, on paper, it is not the optimal way of doing things. But it works and this is enough for most scientists. As a result, there is a huge amount of resistance from scientists to the barrage of ‘modernised’ protocols for traditional benchwork. I personally don’t see this as too big of an issue. In scientific research – if it ain’t broke, don’t you even think about touching it!
Where I do think there is room for improvement is in the acquisition and application of genuinely novel technologies. Here I think that the scientist’s natural caution is to our detriment. It’s undeniable that adopting any new technique has learning curve, and that this can seem like a waste of time. But in these situations we must think about what the point of all this is? We want to answer questions and test hypothesis. If there is a technology available that enhances our ability to do this, we should not be afraid to take a lead in trying something new. Not only is it exciting, it is also extremely important for the long term health of scientific research.