The automation experts at NCATS are responsible for the maintenance, operation and continuous improvement of a full range of laboratory instrumentation and processes. These automation engineers and machinists support NCATS activities in high-throughput screening and assay development and optimization.


Systems supported by the automation team include:

Primary Screening System

With three robotic arms for plate transportation, a storage capacity of more than 3 million compound wells (approximately 2,000 1,536-well compound plates), more than 1.5 million assay wells (approximately 1,100 1,536-well assay plates), and an ability to run multiple assays in parallel, NCATS can achieve world-class screening productivity while maintaining the high level of data quality required by researchers. Center experts have developed custom software to monitor and control the system, in addition to archiving the complete process history for every screen in real time.

Secondary Screening System

With two robotic arms for plate transportation and a storage capacity of nearly 1 million compound or assay wells (about 600 1,536-well compound or assay plates), NCATS experts use this system to screen smaller scale compound libraries not present on the primary screening system. This platform is designed to complement the primary system, and it is easily customizable, allowing for the rapid integration of additional screening technologies.

Tox21 Screening System

This system contains a single robotic arm for plate transportation and a storage capacity of about 1.5 million compound wells (about 1,000 1,536-well compound plates) and more than 1.5 million assay wells (approximately 1,100 1,536-well assay plates). With a pin tool and two acoustic dispensers for compound addition, four low-volume dispensers for reagent addition, and three plate readers enabling a variety of assay detection methods, this system can rapidly screen, in triplicate, the Toxicology in the 21st Century (Tox21) library of 10,000 compounds. NCATS experts monitor and control this system with the same custom software used for the primary screening system.

RNAi Screening System

This high-throughput system has two robotic arms for plate transportation with incubators for assay plate storage and plate stackers to facilitate continuous system operation. A multichannel pipettor, low volume dispensers, an aspirator for plate washing and two different plate readers support a wide variety of detection methods for this RNAi-focused system.


  • Sam Michael
  • Carleen Klumpp-Thomas