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Laboratory diagnostic machines

Automated laboratory machines sequencing DNA.

Automated laboratory machines sequencing DNA.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London

Laboratory diagnostic machines are automated devices that perform chemical and biological tests. They are used in hospital laboratories to measure the chemical properties (and other characteristics) of patient samples such as blood, tissue, DNA or urine. The machine’s analysis tells doctors if a patient has a certain disease or condition.

Diagnostic tests were carried out by hand by hospital laboratory technicians until the 1950s. They were slow, expensive and mistakes occurred. Automated machines revolutionised laboratory diagnosis. One of the first was the AutoAnalyzer, invented by Leonard Skeggs in 1951. He wanted a faster way to manage blood testing within his hospital laboratory, so he built a mechanical device able to perform one blood test per minute. The ‘Robot Chemist’ was invented by Hans Baruch in the 1950s. This machine also automated blood analysis, and was the first laboratory machine to give a digital print-out of results.

More automated laboratory machines were developed from the 1960s. Developments in computers and robotics meant machines became more sophisticated. The sequential multiple analyser with computer could accurately process 20 tests every 24 seconds. Fast and accurate sample analysis made laboratory diagnosis more useful, and by the end of the 20th century machines had made the hospital laboratory crucial to medical practice.


W H Marsh, Automation In Clinical Chemistry (Illinois: Charles C Thomas, 1963)

R Bud and D J Warner (eds), Instruments of Science, An Historical Encyclopaedia (London: Science Museum, 1998)

L Rosenfeld, Four Centuries of Clinical Chemistry (New York: Taylor & Francis, 1999)



Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The material of all living organisms, it stores the information, or blueprints, about every cell and is located in the genes. It is made up of two strands which form a double helix and are linked with hydrogen bonds. It was first described in 1953 by Francis Crick and James Watson.