These days, scientists are making more extensive use of computers, computer-interfaced equipment, robotics, and high-technology industrial applications. But not all researchers can be expected to know how to apply such technologies to their particular work, and not everyone has direct access to them.

As laboratory instrumentation and procedures have become ever more complex and sophisticated, a niche has been growing for scientists who possess the in-depth knowledge and skills needed to build, adapt, perfect, and operate the technologies that support the research of other scientists. The jobs these people do are often more practically oriented than those of basic research scientists, but they are nevertheless rewarding and fulfilling.

You might find these individuals stationed at large international research facilities or just down the hall sequencing DNA or analyzing protein structures. They could be accelerator physicists and engineers working together (but perhaps remotely) to solve the most challenging problems in accelerator design, analysis, and optimization. Perhaps they manage international interdisciplinary projects or develop effective and efficient ways of handling the enormous quantities of data generated from large-scale experiments, leaving the research scientists more time to get on with the business of analyzing that data.

While Next Wave has in the past highlighted such scientists and the facilities in which they work on an ad hoc basis (see box below), in this feature we take a much closer look at the scientists working in what we have broadly defined as the "service" area. We find out more about the kinds of work they do and how they came to be doing it. And, with their help, we get a sense of how much work is going on to develop the new tools and technologies that underpin scientific progress and allow research scientists and engineers to tackle some of the biggest scientific questions ever.

As director of the United Kingdom Human Tissue Bank, Samantha Orr manages staff and takes part in clinical and research liaison activities. A pharmacist by training, Orr feels that her industry background and research experience prepared her well for her current position.

At the BioCurrents Research Center, a small but industrious group of researchers is working hard to create new molecular detection tools designed to enable innovative research, writes Shana Katzman.

Monika Krautstrunk and Andreas Giez are in charge of flight operations at the German Aerospace Center's (DLR's) flight facility in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich. Next Wave editor Eick von Ruschkowski interviewed Krautstrunk and Giez at the Oberpfaffenhofen hangars to find out about their task of keeping the DLR planes in the air. You can read the transcript of that interview in German or English.

After using dozens of PCR primers synthesized by service companies in her academic research, Singapore's Wei Min Hon decided to find out for herself what a career in such a company might look like.

Andrew Bleloch admits that he took a big chance when left a full-time academic post at Cambridge University for the new and experimental SuperSTEM facility at Daresbury Laboratory. But so far, he says, it has been a positive move for his career--and he's discovered he enjoys combining business with research.

Improving the transparency and helping to ensure the performance of future large-scale projects is the mission of an information management group at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), the German research center for accelerator and synchrotron facilities, writes Lars Hagge.

In addition to having a research program, the University Health Network Microarray Centre (MAC) in Toronto has carved a niche for itself in developing and distributing microarrays around the world, say some of the centre's staff.

Isabel Bejar Alonso, a quality assurance engineer in the technical services division of CERN (the European laboratory for particle physics near Geneva), has an important role to play in pushing back the frontiers of her discipline, even though she never has her name on a research paper.

From an early stage in his scientific career, Werner Reigler found a niche in which he could practice the science he enjoyed most: furthering accelerator science and technology by perfecting subatomic particle detectors.

The Jackson Laboratory, writes David Appell, is a unique institution. It combines fundamental research with industrial-scale production and has scientists working on both sides of the aisle.

If you want to find out more about where scientists are in the vanguard of creating the scientific environment of the future, the Next Wave staff has compiled a list of resources that should get your search off to a good start.

And stay tuned in the coming weeks as we add more new articles to the feature.

Elsewhere on Next Wave

We've searched our archives for some previously published, related Next Wave articles that you might want to check out. Eighty Nights Up a Mountain: U.K. researcher Sara Ellison was seeking a work environment that would offer diverse opportunities for professional development. She found it at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

Connecting People: A grid refers to an infrastructure that enables the integrated, collaborative use of high-end computers, networks, databases, and scientific instruments owned and managed by multiple organizations. Such an infrastructure is expected to revolutionize collaborative research by teams of science around the world, and it is the focus of research at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

NCBI GenBank Fellows: Six young scientists from around the world describe their work in experimental design for structural bioinformatics at the National Center for Biotechnology Information.