Guest post by Heather Cassell

In general, labs are large, light and airy places, filled with racks of consumables, glinting glassware that reflects and enhances the light, large bits of kit that you use in your day to day experiments, and – most of the time – other people. But occasionally (or quite frequently, depending on the nature of your project) your work requires you to visit a piece of rarefied, specialist equipment that lives in a room all of its own.

© OJO Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

There are many reasons why kit may be placed in solitary confinement. There are the large, sensitive and fabulously expensive devices that necessitate careful handling. There are those that require the use of light sensitive reagents, or are themselves light sensitive, and exist in state of permanent darkness. Others are separated from the main lab for researchers’ own health and safety.

As with any specialist equipment, the first step when is to get the proper training. If it’s not a device you’ve known since your first day in an undergraduate lab, it’s very bad form to just go in and start pressing buttons and hope for the best. Having the proper training will provide you with all the health and safety information you need, helping you to understand why this particular bit of kit was isolated in the first place. This is particularly important as you often work in these labs on your own, and will need to know what to do if something goes wrong.

Specialised and rare as they are, these bits of kit are often in high demand. A particularly popular device may be booked well in advance, forcing you to plan your experiment around its availability. There may be time restrictions on busy machines to allow everyone a fair turn during the day, and woe betide anyone who over runs over their allotted time or commits the cardinal sin of failing to use the booking sheet, for they will feel the passive-aggressive wrath  of the other users. Longer experiments may need to be run outside peak hours, such as very early in the morning or late at night. This can be very lonely and time can easily disappear; you realise you’ve been sat in this small dark room for hours without moving with only the screen/display/machine for light, repeating the same song in your head until time has little meaning.

After you have run your experiment, you emerge, blinking, from the darkened room with either a fistful of results to analyse, or a huge sense of disappointment. Science may be built on failed experiments and inexplicable results, but those hours can still feel wasted, and it takes human company and a cup of tea – or if it’s late a good night’s sleep – to put everything into perspective. Then you regroup, book yourself into the next available slot and you are ready for the next challenge of working in the lab.

VN:F [1.9.10_1130]
Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.10_1130]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
Chemistry in confinement, 10.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)