Wednesday, June 15, 2005


In grad school, my experiments were mostly on 6-day old cells which, when the preparation of the patterned substrate on which they grew was factored in, required almost three weeks of preparation. Experiments on primary cells were even more difficult to set up, as I could only obtain the primary cells sporadically. And experiments on primary cells from knockout mice bred without a gene for the protein I was interested in were the most difficult experiments of all, because these mice were not healthy, and therefore the cells were very rare.

My main experiment involved a micropipette with a 75-micron diameter. This may seem small, but micropipettes are usually only a few microns in diameter, so my micropipettes were actually huge on the micropipette scale of things. Because I needed such large ones, I could not forge the micropipettes myself. (I’d explain why, but those readers who don’t already understand why likely don’t care. In short, I needed at least 20 microns of constant inner diameter, and that’s nearly impossible to do for such a large pipette.) So instead of traditional micropipettes, I used a hollow fiber optic waveguide that was commercially available in spools of several yards. I owed this brilliant suggestion to The Husband, who works with lasers and optics and waveguides.

In addition to suggesting I use the waveguides in the first place, The Husband also prepared them for me. His lab had a fancy-schmancy waveguide cleaver which made clean cuts through the glass to create micropipettes about 2-inches long. Without the cleaver, the spool of fiber optic glass was useless, because I couldn’t make smooth-edged pipettes. We never got around to buying the cleaver because The Husband didn’t mind making the micropipettes for me, and I could just pick them up when I saw him on the weekends. Since The Husband lived a 2-hour drive from me, I was always careful to make sure I always had plenty of prepared micropipettes ready at all times.

That’s why it was such a shock to discover that I had only one pipette left the day of my big, big experiment on the knockout primary cells. I couldn’t believe it. I checked and rechecked all of the spots where I kept the pipettes, but that was it. One left. I held up my sole pipette to the light to examine it for defects and try to determine whether I could run an entire experiment with only one pipette, and I dropped it. I had one pipette left, and I dropped it, and it disappeared into the dust on the floor.

I called The Husband in a blind panic and he agreed to make some more and meet me on the Jersey Turnpike in ninety minutes. I had to borrow The Doktah’s car, which was a Chevy Metro. It got great mileage, but it couldn’t go above fifty miles per hour and run the air conditioner. I met The Husband, picked up the goods, and headed back to the lab.

About ten hours after discovering the shortage of pipettes, I finished the experiment. The results were good, and the data comprised a large portion of my thesis, so it was all worth it in the end. But damn.


Orange said...

Three weeks of work for an experiment? Sounds like such fun!

I hadn't realized you and The Husband were long-distance for a while. My girlfriend is getting cold feet (there's a chance it might be 3-4 years still before we can settle down in the same house)... It's nice to be able to point out examples of people who made it. Any tips on getting through the grad school/postdoc years in a long-distance relationship/marriage? How long did that phase last for you?

Mo said...

We were long distance for the entirety of our pre-marriage life. We met in college, but he went to a different school, so we always lived at least 1.5 hours away from each other.

It pretty much sucked, but we obviously survived. Once things got serious, we visited each other every weekend. We alternated who did the traveling, but towards the end of my dissertation work, he came to visit me much more often so that I could go into the lab and get done sooner. We didn't necessarily call each other every day; our schedules were really different during the week and email is a wonderful thing. We did talk on the phone, but if we missed a day or two, no one got mad about it. We had stuff going on.

Then when we got married, I moved into his apartment and now we see each other every day! It's great. (But we moved from there since then.)

Doktah said...

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Orange, but you can't just point to other people and say "it worked for them". I can tell you a lot of people live apart. I know one married couple who have never lived together. I'm talking east-coast west-coast. It's fine for them. I lived apart from my significant other (200 miles) for a while and it worked, but now that the commute is going to be more than that I said no and I completely adjusted my life so we could be together. (He was consdiering the same, but it was easier this way). It wouldn't have worked well for us to be so far apart. But I'm in constant need of having objects lodged up my nose removed and the like. Couples (made of individuals) have to decide their comfort level for themselves.

BTW Mo, I'm moving.

Orange said...

Yeah, I don't really think that "they did it so we can too" is going to convince anyone (including myself). Still, it's encouraging to hear success stories. Thanks :)

accumaximum said...

Micropipette: These are very useful when samples need to be measurement specific. Micropipettes are adjustable and carry several tubes that facilitate microscopic lab research.