Now more than ever, there is a call for mobile labs that can accommodate expansive operations within a small footprint without compromising quality or efficiency.
The emergence of new technologies opened the door for handheld devices and tools, but until now, there hasn’t been a truly portable lab that enables people to reap the full benefits of those new devices at their point of need.
With the Mercury Lab, MRIGlobal has discovered a way to provide all the necessary logistics in a human-centered design that compresses into the size of a suitcase. This single-person-portable, grab-and-go case allows researchers from a variety of industries to take lab work anywhere.
Keep reading about how the Mercury Lab may change the future of mobile research.
A glance back: The birth and evolution of mobile labs
To understand the innovation and impact of this new engineering feat, it’s best to understand just how far we’ve come.
Mobile labs have a long history, enabling military, government, health, and agricultural work to expand into the field. For years, mobile labs have allowed the capability to research outside the scope of a central laboratory for early pathogen detection, on-site investigations, testings, and more. As a result, they have decreased turnaround times and increased crucial response times.
An example of one of the first mobile labs is the Russian Anti-Plague (AP) System, spearheaded in the 1890s. The AP system was a response to natural outbreaks such as cholera and zoonotic diseases (diseases that transfer from animal to human). Controlling these outbreaks required extreme coordination between different public health agencies, which meant that labs could not always remain in one place. At the time, AP teams depended on horses to deploy labs from location to location.
Thankfully, modern mobile labs don’t depend on horseback, though that would be quite the sight. Instead, modern transportation has allowed us to deploy labs via trucks, trains, boats, and airplanes, vastly expanding where we can go.
However, most mobile labs, although mobile in a sense, still have limits. Due to their size, they require special transportation to get them to their location. Once on site, these mobile labs become stationary, meaning it’s not always easy (or cost-effective) to continue moving them around.
The turning point: Ebola outbreak of 2014-15
No singular instance quite pushed the capabilities of mobile labs as the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak. During that time, nations across the globe, including the United States, designed and delivered labs to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.
One main issue was designing labs that work well in countries with less developed infrastructure (e.g., power grid, water supply, etc), and without a strong public health system.
Along with environmental needs, the ever-changing situation required more lab mobilization, with which containerized and truck-based labs could not always keep up. Being at the forefront of the fight against Ebola, MRIGlobal saw first-hand the need for even more portable labs. Though our mobile labs and Containerized Biocontainment System (CBCS) greatly influenced the success of Ebola surveillance and transporting patients, we knew we could take our work a step further.
The Mercury Lab emerged from this experience battling Ebola in West Africa. We found that mobile labs worked well, but they were hard to move around. We thought, “if there are smaller molecular biology and diagnostics devices available, how can we implement them into a smaller lab system?”
From there, we were able to come together with experts from a variety of disciplines within our organization to create a lab that solved key mobile lab issues we faced during the Ebola outbreak.
A step into the future: get to know the Mercury Lab
For more than three years, our team at MRIGlobal has worked diligently to perfect our portable lab. We started with an idea that transformed into a successful prototype, which will become the first commercially sold lab of its kind.
The Mercury Lab provides everything needed to operate an efficient lab with a design construct similar to a standard laboratory workbench. Meant for single-person use, it folds into the size of a suitcase, meaning you can check it in as luggage on a plane or transport it in the back of a pickup truck.
This makes the Mercury Lab great for a variety of applications such as food inspections, forensics and crime scenes, disaster response, and infectious disease diagnostics. With a lifetime that could last for several years, the Mercury Lab is a long-term unit with benefits that will continue to grow as technology expands.
Frequently asked questions about our mobile lab unit
Dr. Joe Russell, a Senior Scientist at MRIGlobal, recently provided a more in-depth look at our Mercury Lab technology to our marketing team. Read on for his input on the questions we are asked most frequently.
How will I power the Mercury Lab?
You can power the Mercury Lab using a 12-volt car battery or a 6-volt motorcycle battery. For people in the U.S., the lab has 120-volt capability. To convert to the power outlets overseas (such as the EU and Africa), we have a 12-volt/220-volt power unit.
Does the Mercury Lab have solar power capabilities?
As of now, the Mercury Lab does not have built-in solar power. It was an interest of ours, but after looking into it, the arrays (solar panels) needed would make the design too big. However, that’s not to say there isn’t opportunity in the future. Note that if your operation already has solar in place, the Mercury Lab will be fully compatible to source its power supply from it.
How customizable is the Mercury Lab?
With the design, we made sure the Mercury Lab could perform a variety of tasks, making it a viable option for many industries. Therefore, the design is fairly static right now, but you can customize its computational capacity. For example, our units come with a graphics processing unit (GPU), but you can choose to not include it if you’d like.
Is there anything similar on the market?
No. Right now the Mercury Lab is the only commercially-available portable lab that works as a single-person pack. There are other options such as trucks and containerized labs, but you won’t get the same freedom and mobility as you will with the Mercury Lab.
How will the Mercury Lab complement a central reference lab?
Our goal with the Mercury Lab is to help alleviate the number of samples that enter the central reference lab. In our experience, many central labs face a bottleneck effect where there are too many samples coming in but not enough capacity to get through them at the pace our clients need. Instead of trying to squeeze samples into one place, the Mercury Lab allows you to obtain samples, analyze them, and get results while in the field.
Keep in mind these analyses will not be as specific or detailed as a central lab. But they will allow you to make presumptive positives to determine whether or not you want to delve further into a sample (by bringing it back to your central lab for further analysis). In doing so, you can filter how many samples are shipped to a central reference lab, which can help you save time and money.
Does the Mercury Lab come with training?
Of course, training is included with the purchase of this compact mobile lab. If you’re in the U.S., we will fly you to our headquarters in Kansas City for a full day of training on your unit. We can also travel to you for a one-day training session, but that would be at your own cost.
Will MRIGlobal be available for ongoing support?
Yes, we will always be there to help you along the way. The Mercury Lab comes with a one-year warranty, remote IT support for computer systems, and if you experience structural failure, we will replace the unit at no cost.
Conversely, we are hopeful that the customers interested in purchasing these mobile labs will be as passionate about this new technology as we are. Maintaining an ongoing relationship with these customers will be paramount to understanding its true capabilities in the field across a wide scope of applications and will allow us to further develop and refine the product going forward.
How will your Mercury Lab change in the future?
It is hard to say how our Mercury Lab may change, but we always strive to be at the forefront of new technology. Even as we prepare for the launch of our Mercury Lab, our team is hard at work to determine ways to continually improve upon our first line of labs and are seeking feedback from our customers to help us determine additional features or capabilities that they may find helpful. Two specific features we are already anticipating a need for include a built-in biocontainment system (as of now, you will have to use protective gear to maintain biocontainment level standards) and the implementation of solid-state lithium batteries.
Benefits of the Mercury Lab
We worked hard to ensure our Mercury Lab comes with benefits that surpass other mobile options. Since our team built the technology based on their real-world experience in the field, we already intimately understood the gaps researchers needed to fill in order to be more efficient and cost-effective with their time and resources. Here are just a few of the benefits you can enjoy with the Mercury Lab.
The Mercury Lab is not simply mobile—it is 100% portable. If anything changes in the field or samples become too far away to collect, you can easily pack up and move without taking time to find a large truck, train, or plane to transport heavy equipment.
Reduces turnaround times
For many, a lab’s turnaround time is a key performance factor. People require accurate results at a rapid pace, but when central labs become too overloaded, the pace slows significantly. The Mercury Lab can help by alleviating the load to make workflow more efficient.
Works with mobile labs
The Mercury Lab can work in conjunction with a standard mobile lab to help broaden its scope. This can allow more people to work in a smaller setting while also expanding the reach of the research.
Allows for more comprehensive data
The need for biological data and the ability to generate that data is always increasing, yet central labs on their own cannot always keep up with this demand. With the help of the Mercury Lab, you can generate high-quality data to increase your overall data density without sacrificing efficiency or labor.
Learn more about the Mercury Lab with MRIGlobal
MRIGlobal is a non-profit research organization based in Kansas City that specializes in defense, human health, pharmaceutical sciences, in-vitro diagnostics, energy and transportation, agriculture, and global health. Our solution-driven teams are dedicated to finding answers that will make the country and world safer for all.
For more than 75 years, MRIGlobal has advanced scientific research across a variety of industries. We focus on supporting better health outcomes on a global scale. For us, it’s not simply about science; it’s about the people who make it all happen.
We have a solution-driven mentality that allows us to find answers in even the most complex situations. Through our dedication, we can solve virtually any technical problem.
To learn more about the portable Mercury Lab, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re part of an agency, business, or academic institution seeking help with a project, use our Project Quote Tool to get started today. Our Mercury Labs are also available for preorder, which are expected to be available by summer 2020.