Wednesday, May 25, 2005

What, no lab coat?

Our lab, as has been documented, was rife with temperature control problems. I have already referred to the heating problems we had thanks to the gaping hole in the ceiling, but more often, the lab would get too hot. Sometimes the building’s air handler went on the blink, and when that happened, the temperature would easily reach 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. But even when the air handler was working, the old one was never quite up to the task of modulating the temperature of the whole lab, especially if we had machines running. Take the laminar flow hood, for example. For those uninitiated to the joys of the laminar flow hood, it’s just a biosafety cabinet for working with cells that keeps a sterile field by blowing clean air over the surface. The blower motors can really generate a lot of heat, and on more than one occasion, the incubators in my cell culture room overheated because the ambient room temperature was too high. The incubators were set for 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and they overheated.

Fortunately, people usually only needed to work in the cell culture room for an hour or two at a time. The microscope room, on the other hand, was a sweltering little cave of solitude. We were a very microscope intensive laboratory, and people used to sit at the scope for hours and hours at a time, running experiments. The room was very small, and microscopes are chock full of motors and mercury-arc lamps that generate lots of heat. So by the end of a long experiment, it could easily be twenty degrees hotter in the microscope room than in the rest of the lab.

At one point, The Doktah had to run a series of experiments that required hours of sitting in front of the scope. These particular experiments were also flourescence-based, which required total darkness. She was also trying to run these experiments during the lab reconstruction that was supposed to take only two weeks, but took about four months, and which involved replacing the air handler. The air handler, therefore, did not work at all for about a week.

That is how The Doktah found herself sentenced to seven days alone in a tiny, dark room, with no air, a room which reached temperatures upwards of 80 degrees F. She was not happy about this. The other members of the lab knew that her experiments were terribly expensive to run, and, attempting to be helpful, kept bringing her lunch and snacks so she wouldn’t have to stop working to go get them. Unfortunately, by doing so we were inadvertently taking away her only chance to escape the hot, dark, lonely room for a few precious minutes. As we handed her her lunch, the wall of hot, stuffy air hit smack in the face. “Well, here you go!” we’d say. “We don’t want to interrupt you, so we’ll just leave this here,” and we’d run off.

“Wait!” The Doktah would call after us. “Stay and talk! I don’t mind!” But we’d already be gone, gasping for the fresh air of the rest of the lab.

By the end of her sentence of solitary confinement, The Dotkah had taken to doing the experiments at night, when there were fewer people around to generate heat and no construction to cause vibrations. She also took to doing the experiments in a bikini top and shorts. Because, why not?

No comments: