Thursday, March 3, 2011

It is a cold harsh world: Lessons in shipping with dry ice

Two week ago Assaf completed a large scale experiment with the robot. The next step was sending all the samples to Ollie's lab for running the NanoString assays. This involved sending cellular extracts with RNA from ~900 samples. Since the samples are sensitive, they need to be kept cold, and so should be shipped expediently packaged with dry ice to keep the temperature.

It turned out that this is a non-trivial exercise. In our previous iteration, we learned where to order dry ice. Now, however, we needed a much larger box as we were sending hundreds of tubes. 

Assaf used the robot to move the samples into 12-strips of small tubes, organized in 96-well format by using tip boxes.

Ayelet and Assaf then sat down and labeled the strips and packed them in boxes. They sealed the boxes with parafilm to keep everything in place. 

Assaf and I packed the insulating polystyrene box with blocks of dry ice, and arranged the boxes on top of them. Finally we sealed the box tightly and shipped it to UMass.

After three days, we get an email titled "Disaster!". When the UMass people opened the box they found small rocks of dry ice and many fragments of plastic scattered throughout the box (although few boxes remained intact).

(pictures courtesy of Ollie's iPhone)

The lessons we learned from the exercise is a harsh one. Turns out that the plastic strips we use are extremely brittle at cold temperature. Moreover, parafilm no longer binds when cold. Moreover, as the ice blocks evaporate, there is room for play inside the box, and things start to jump around, leading to havoc.


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sbo said...

I realize those are forsbobet doggies but I would be hard pressed not to eat one ;)

Shannon said...

Dry ice is not a safe and reliable way to ship your biological materials. Temperature control is absolutely essential to successful transport of your biological specimens. It is important to ship your materials with liquid nitrogen dry vapor shippers rather than dry ice to avoid temperature spikes and drops. To learn more about safe shipping methods check out Cryoport: