Re: electrophoresis thought experiement (could it work?)
Could you do this with just a scanner that used a blue or UV bulb instead of white light? This sounds like something that could be hacked... unless they don't sell scanner bulbs in blue/UV, which I'm betting they don't.
You would also need some method of varying the time of light exposure. Depending on how well your gel is stained and how much DNA is in your bands, you can get massive variation in the amount of time necessary to get a 'good' image. At my day job, using quality reagents and running fairly consistent amounts of DNA, I've had exposure times vary from one to ten seconds. With smaller samples or less pure gels it might be a lot more variable.
I don't actually know anything about how scanners work, so I have no idea if this is feasible.
You're right about the scanner bulb. Ive been thinking about other options. I believe that ionic air purifiers have a UV tube, but I think that they operate on too strong a wavelength for use with a gel (A quick glance on Google showed transilluminators to operate in around 305-320 nm and ionic air purifiers to operate around 250 nm) UV LEDs have also come down since I last made that post. Not a lot, but some.
I'm curious about the light exposure though. It's something I hadn't given much thought to. What are the factors you consider when determining how long to expose your gel?
Why not just rig it to take a photograph, invert the colours and use that? That's what we do at uni. You'd have to be careful with lighting conditions, but there's no reason a computer couldn't use it, is there?
Good thought, also hadn't considered that. Probably would go with the scanner though because I already have an old one that I'm using. How long do you set your exposure time too? Also, what kind of stain are you using?