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Excellence Everywhere - National University of Ireland, Galway

Excellence Everywhere - National University of Ireland, Galway

equipment, freeze-drying

equipment, freeze-drying equipment, and radiationdetectors, as well as a variety of chemicals,radiochemicals, medical or biological reagents,and toxins. Equipment or components used inprocessing (such as large-scale purification) arepotentially problematic, because similar processingsteps can be used both in legitimate scientificexperiments and in the production of biological orchemical weapons. These items can include suchcommon equipment as pumps and valves.In some cases, obtaining an export license canadd substantially to the time required to receiveyour shipment. For example, filtration cartridges,which have a legitimate use in protein purification,can also be used in bioweapons manufacturing,and in one recent instance, obtaining an exportlicense for these items took about seven months.There is no way around the potentially long delaysin these instances; the best you can do is to try toplan your orders well in advance of when you willneed the equipment or supplies. Most companieswill provide information to you about exactly whattypes of equipment will require an export license.Despite these warnings, it is important to notethat most standard laboratory equipment andreagents do not require export licenses. Evenorders for radiochemicals, which could be imaginedto cause difficulties, generally do not result in longdelays. This is because research scale quantitiesare small, and the types of radiochemicals used inbiological experiments are not those used in themanufacture of weapons.An experienced company representative will knowthe difference between equipment and reagentsthat could legitimately be used in laboratoryexperiments and those that are not legitimate.A local representative also gains a sense of thetypes of work going on in individual laboratories.Particularly since 2001, big companies withoutlocal representatives have become less willingto provide a quote for dual-use equipment orreagents unless they know who the end user willbe. Instead, they will sometimes turn a request fora quote over to a company with a local representativewho does know the individuals in a particularregion. In this regard, scientists may come outahead in that they will receive a quote from acompany able to supply local support.Service and MaintenanceJust as there are upfront costs associated withusing a forwarding agent or customs broker thatcan in the end save money, there can be costsassociated with using an established local distributorassociated with well-known companies,rather than a foreign distributor or an unknowndistributor without a track record, that ultimatelyrepresent money well spent. Such a decision canhave consequences beyond simply having theequipment arrive safely.Both large and small pieces of equipment oftenrequire technical support in the initial setup phase,as well as ongoing service and maintenance. Anoverseas company without a local agent mightwell offer a given piece of equipment at a lowercost than a company with a local presence. Thissituation might arise because the quote from theoverseas company is based on the cost of supportin Europe or North America, for example, ratherthan in the country where you are. If you were toselect the company based on the cheapest quotein this situation, you would not have a local agentto rely on if the equipment requires servicing.In general, this is a problem in countries with alow volume of scientific equipment sold. On aper-unit basis, it is more expensive to support oneDNA sequencer or synthesizer in a country likeLaos than it is to support the far greater numberof these units in a country like France. In lowvolumecountries, education levels are generallylower, and local people must be sent overseas tobe trained or a service agent must be brought infrom another country, all contributing to the costof supplying service.This issue is further complicated by the factthat funding organizations sometimes requirescientists to obtain bids for large equipment andto accept the lowest bid. As just described, thatrequirement might well leave you withoutequipment support.What strategies could you use to avoid findingyourself in this situation? One approach is towork with a trusted local distributing agent froman early stage, during the grant-writing process.The agent can work with you to put the requiredspecifications for a piece of equipment and its172 excellence everywhere

associated service and maintenance contractinto your grant proposal, so that companies thatwill not ultimately provide support are eliminatedfrom consideration. Such specifications mightinclude conditions such as: “Company supplyingequipment must have a local engineer trained inproduct,” “Company must have onsite technicalsupport,” or “Company must have skilled technicalsupport in the local time zone.”Attention to this issue might also save you fromdealing with companies with no scientific credentialsat all, as the following example illustrates.A scientist working at the Pasteur Institute inCambodia received funding from the World HealthOrganization (WHO) office in Manila, Philippines.WHO required that the scientist obtain bids for therequested equipment, which he did. One of thebids came from an established local distributor.The agent for that distributor received an emailfrom another company asking for a quote for thepiece of equipment with the exact specificationsoriginally given to him by the scientist. Thiscompany was a local trading company and had noexperience with scientific equipment whatsoever.After the details of this situation were sorted out,it turned out that a person working in the WHOoffice in Manila gave unauthorized information toa cousin in Cambodia who worked for the localtrading company. That cousin then attempted toundermine the tender of the established distributorby underbidding slightly. The local trading companymight have supplied the equipment, but certainlycould do nothing further, and the scientist wouldhave been out of luck if any sort of local supportwas needed. However, because this scientist hadprovided very specific requirements about supportin the grant application, he was able to purchasethe equipment from the established distributor.Local ConditionsKnowledgeable local distributors and service personnelwill also be familiar with specific problemsin the local infrastructure that can affect equipmentperformance. For example, in some regions, voltagefluctuations can be extremely large, meaningthat equipment needs to be supplied with thecorrect grounding devices. Working with the rightlocal distributor can potentially prevent damage toyour equipment or experiments.Installing fancy equipment in labs in the Southshould be done with great caution, even in settingsthat appear suitable. Papua New Guineais a middle-income country with fewer energyproblems compared to many West Africancountries. My present laboratory in PNG iswell-equipped with air conditioning and facilitiesfor performing DNA-based assays. I recentlybought a $60,000 Bioplex instrument for performingmosquito diagnostic assays and put itin a lab with window air conditioning. A fewweeks later, this very expensive equipment malfunctionedbecause the window air conditionercaused vibrations in the walls that made thelaser readers alter the alignment. We had to flyin a technician from Australia to fix the problem.Luckily for us we had a good service agreement.Remember to budget for equipment service bytechnicians from more developed countries.”Moses Bockarie, Papua New GuineaEstablishing a Laboratoryafter training abroadIf you have done most of your training in a richcountry, the complications of materials transferfaced by any scientist in that region may bemagnified for you because of a lack of recentknowledge of local customs and specific conditions.In this situation, it can be very useful to spend amonth or two at your new job before starting toset up your laboratory. Ask your new colleaguesabout issues related to the infrastructure thatmight cause problems with your equipment orexperiments. For example, in some places, theair conditioning is turned off at 6:00 PM. A periodof re-familiarizing yourself may also allow you tore-adapt to differences in communications whichcan be quite striking between different countries.There are places, for example, where it is notuncommon for a person saying that he or she willdo a certain task to have no intention of actuallydoing that task. Learning or re-learning todistinguish when “yes” means “yes” wouldobviously be useful.moving materials and equipment173

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