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SQI: Simpson Querry Institute

New videos promote safe training on ANTEC equipment during COVID-19 pandemic

“By creating these videos, we were able to achieve continuity with our training and provide excellent service so that researchers could move forward with their projects — all while keeping both the instructor and the trainees safe.”

Alexandra Kolot,
ANTEC Director

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic radically altered safety protocols in research laboratories, the Analytical bioNanoTechnology Equipment Core (ANTEC) at the Simpson Querrey Institute sought to make its user guides for scientific instruments more visual and easier to follow than standard equipment manuals.

But as it became clear that physical distancing and reduced occupancy would become the new normal in their laboratory, ANTEC director Alexandra Kolot and core technician Charles Bressan realized they needed to do more than supplement in-person training for ANTEC’s highly technical equipment. They needed to replace it altogether.

Starting last summer, ANTEC completely overhauled its training procedure, replacing in-person sessions with a combination of illustrated user guides, instructional videos for seven different instruments and Zoom meetings in which Bressan assists new users while they are in the laboratory until they are comfortable operating the equipment. This ensures that every trainee has a safe and standardized introduction to ANTEC and its state-of-the-art equipment, which can be used for testing and processing biological and chemical materials.

“At ANTEC we aim to provide investigators from Northwestern and the local research community access to cutting-edge research equipment, and training new users is how we enable this access,” Kolot said. “By creating these videos, we were able to achieve continuity with our training and provide excellent service so that researchers could move forward with their projects — all while keeping both the instructor and the trainees safe.”

Developing videos for seven different instruments was a major undertaking and a key component of the revamped training process. Planning for the project began in April, while filming and editing started over the summer — with the order of video production prioritized by user need.

Some of the videos have been in circulation for several months and have generated positive feedback from researchers who have completed the new training process. The videos are available by request through NUCore or contacting ANTEC staff.

“Even for some of the more difficult and sensitive instruments that required the full Zoom training experience in addition to the videos, we were able to train new users and they were able to progress, get their data, and do everything they needed to do,” Bressan said. “They have been happy and satisfied with it.”

A key advantage of the videos is that they are concise and tailored to ANTEC’s research environment and the type of testing and processes commonly used by laboratory clients. This is in stark contrast to user manuals from manufacturers, many of which contain dozens or even hundreds of pages of highly technical text.

Bradley Tallon (left) and Charles Bressan filming an instrument demonstration.

In the instructional videos, Bressan demonstrates the functions of the instruments and how to use the necessary software to acquire data and analyze results.

“Here we’ve shown exactly how you can start from the beginning and get results,” Kolot said. “That whole manual is now condensed into a 15 to 20-minute video, so it’s a really significant achievement.”

Bressan worked with program assistant Bradley Tallon to adapt his in-person trainings to a video-friendly format. Tallon led the filming and editing and even produced the music that is included in the introduction and closing of each video.

The pair quickly grew more comfortable with the filming process and were able to avoid close contact in the laboratory by acquiring shots from creative angles and using an 8-foot microphone cord. Paring down hours of footage and adding subtitles to all of the videos proved to be labor-intensive tasks, so Tallon enlisted the help of program assistant Jose De La Torre to accelerate the project. 

Jose De La Torre

Once De La Torre joined the group as another editor, the team quickly finished up the final few videos. ANTEC now has a new tool for standardized, step-by-step training for its equipment, which will help the laboratory and its users for years to come.

“There is no replacement for in-person training and it’s important to develop personal relationships with the users of your instruments, so we hope to resume those trainings in the future,” Kolot said. “But now we have a great backup and a great baseline training, which is extremely useful. This team started from scratch and produced high-quality, user-friendly training materials, and now these videos will serve us for the lifetime of the instruments.”