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By Rich Handley

European Molecular Biology Lab Uses HID Global RFID System to Track Cryogenic Research Equipment

HID Global, a provider of trusted-identity solutions, has announced that the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), in Grenoble, France, has selected HID's RFID tags and patented direct-bonding technology for the automated handling of biological samples at cryogenic temperatures of +196 degrees Celsius (-321 degrees Fahrenheit) in liquid nitrogen.

EMBL creates high-resolution pictures and 3D atomic models of biological macromolecules, using a specialized imaging process called macromolecular crystallography (MX). These images are useful for studying biological materials, developing efficient medicine and fighting cancer more effectively, the company reports. The images require molecular samples to be prepared in a crystalized form and then frozen. Handling these samples is a complex task, as tiny crystals must be grown, harvested, frozen on a sample holder at the tip of a tiny needle, and stored in liquid nitrogen at cryogenic temperatures, and must be identified for further processing while remaining cool.

Most current sample holders used in MX imaging offer limited storage density and poor initial crystal-positioning, which affects processing and limits the benefits of automated crystal harvesting systems, according to HID. As a result, EMBL set out to design a storage and identification solution robust enough to function at extreme cold temperatures, but small enough to facilitate high precision and storage density. It also needed to support high-speed, automated handling by robots.

"The HID Global technology has proven to be reliable against temperature cycling between room and liquid nitrogen temperatures, and the HID team was very supportive in helping us with our new designs," said Florent Cipriani, the head of EMBL's instrumentation team, in a prepared statement.

Embeddable RFID tags and direct bonding technology from HID were chosen for identification in EMBL's new sample holders due to the tags' tiny footprint, track record of working in cryogenic environments and ability to be custom-designed to meet the needs of EMBL. HID's direct bonding allows the secure attachment of antennas to chips without the bulk of added modules.

"HID Global's proven RFID technology has been used in various cryogenic environments for years," said Richard Aufreiter, HID's director of product management for identification technology, in the prepared statement. "It was a natural partnership between HID and EMBL to design a tracking system resistant to frosting and other aspects of extreme cold. Our team worked directly with EMBL engineers to ensure the best tracking system was deployed in their newly designed sample storage solution."

With HID's technology, EMBL developed two new sample holders for high throughput, precision and reliable sample tracking of more than 200,000 crystals per year. The RFID-enabled sample holders increase throughput by allowing crystal harvesting, cryogenic storage and MX beamline feeding processes to be fully automated using robot grippers and specifically designed RFID readers. Available memory space in the RFID tags can store additional information about the samples.

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