Thursday, December 29, 2005

Flying Flasks

I have come to the conclusion that graduate students add a certain amount of interest and “excitement” to a research laboratory. Let’s face reality here, graduate students are still in the learning process and don’t possess the skill level and knowledge that a “seasoned’ researcher has. So, inevitably, things have a tendency to “happen” with graduate students in a laboratory. As the saying goes, sh** happens.

Being a graduate student myself, I remember a time when I was in the lab in a big rush to re-crystallize a product. In my big rush, I forgot that benzene is flammable. Fortunately, no one got hurt and no one was around to witness my stupidity. I obviously never did recover those crystals and I am glad that my advisor at the time did not ask too many questions about what happened to my crystals that day. I am not sure how he would have bought the explanation of "Well Dr. XYZ, they sort of sublimed into the air, and they are around somewhere."

Just this past year, we got another graduate student in the lab. This made me happy for two reasons. First, that I was now no longer on the very bottom of the “totem pole”, and secondly, that there was another person now in the lab whose skill level was comparable to my own. Sometimes it gets a little depressing working around people who have 10-plus years of knowledge and skill under their belt. It can be rather refreshing to have someone around who is in the same boat as I am.

A few weeks back, this newer graduate student started growing something in this homemade minimal media. I am not sure what it was and from the looks of it, I don’t think I want to know. He put this “stuff” in a 2-liter flask and clamped it on one of our platform shakers rotating at 250 rpm to grow/incubate for a few days.

Somehow, this flask sheared off the platform and became airborne (with the clamp still attached). The flask eventually landed and broke when it hit the floor. When the flask broke, it oozed its contents onto the floor. To make matters worse, it became really obvious that this particular flask had some sort of contamination, because it really smelled—BAD. The smell I can only describe as really, really bad smelly feet.

Of course, when this happened, the graduate student was not around. No one in the lab wanted to go near the stuff and clean it up—we kept hoping that the graduate student would show up any minute. Well, the graduate student didn’t show up for a couple hours so, the “smelly feet” solution sat on the floor further incubating.

Having been in a research lab, I can say that I have smelled worse. There are things and some chemicals I don’t really want to be near, much less work with. However, in this case with the “smelly feet solution”, I think the quantity (amount and duration) makes up for quality.

The graduate student has now started up a new batch. He has put aluminum foil around these flasks to keep the light out. Now to me, they look like giant individually wrapped HO-HOs. Giant, individually wrapped HO-HOs rotating at 250 rpm. So, much so that I went out there and put a sign on the flasks saying “Giant HO-HOs”. I just hope these HO-HOs don’t become airborne and become the flying HO-HOs.


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