Approachable directions for a complicated & technical task
While I was working at the Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology at Boston University School of Medicine, I spent most of my time building implants. These implants were used to record neuronal firing in rats and allowed the lab to perform experiments that explored the effects of cognitive enhancers. In short, the lab needed to get data from the brains of rats and these implants allowed that data to be acquired in real-time. Think of it like a USB port for a brain: with these implants, we could plug an animal into a computer and get data from it!
Naturally, these devices are very time-consuming to make; they are made up of dozens of parts that all need to be manufactured to high tolerances. Because of this, a lot of my time in the lab was getting these implants to work properly. I would take notes about how to make each piece and how to put them together. Soon I had amassed a large collection of notes that started to resemble a manual for how to build these implants. I talked with my manager and decided to work on combining my notes into a comprehensive implant manual specifically geared towards undergraduate researchers.
When I started out in the lab, I relied on the senior undergraduate researcher as well as my manager. There was a protocol written up by a graduate student, but it was written for researchers more experienced than I was at the time. I wanted to make something any upcoming scientist could use. My goal was to make a reference that would be approachable to any incoming undergraduate, allowing them to start building implants quickly and efficiently.
The result was a 54-page manual that covered all aspects of building the implants. It was built off of my experiences in implant manufacturing as well as working with incoming undergraduates. The act of documenting the manufacturing process helped me better understand the implants as well as give back a useful tool to the lab. It makes me proud to think that even now my manual may be helping new researchers grasp the implant manufacturing process.