Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shared research equipment woes, PUI-style

Yes, we have all endured the frustration that goes on when one person doesn't uphold the lab/ departmental standards of cleanliness or handling of equipment.We usually communicate this in a lab meeting segment I call "shared-use bitching".

I am reminded of a story in my post-doc lab (overseas). Due to culture and cost, the only allowed use for blue nitrile gloves was handling ethidium bromide. If one saw a blue nitrile glove lying about, it was assumed to be contaminated with this highly toxic material. I recall a lab meeting in which the normal "shared-use bitching" started with someone silently opening a PowerPoint in which there was a picture of a blue nitrile glove lying on the kitchen counter next to the coffee machine. A collective gasp went up among the 30 or so members of the audience. The lab head said, "You realize zat zis is absolutely unacceptable, no?"

No one ever fessed up to that (wasn't ME!).

In research-based institutions there are regular lab meetings, and their shared-use bitching is a helpful communication medium that increases the chances that trouble is mostly minor, can be repaired relatively easily, and that slackers get corrected in a reasonable amount of time.

In an undergraduate institution, there are no meetings regarding shared-use equipment. Moreover, undergraduates are left alone unsupervised in the lab for long stretches, and some equipment is only needed once in a blue moon. Equipment problems are harder to catch and correct in time.

I was infuriated but not surprised when I found this recently:

Figure 1:  An SS34 rotor with two non-high speed centrifuge tubes wedged in permanently,  heavy corrosion from salt, and some rust around the bolts.Note to non-specialists, this can create a dangerous situation if a rotor fails under high speed.

Figure 2: A shaker with multiple dried bacterial cultures, scraps of paper towel strewn about, mysterious white powder, and new corrosion.

I stopped to talk face to face with several colleagues about it, all of which basically gave me the "I didn't do it, not MY problem" response. 

What are your "shared-use equipment bitching" stories?


  1. Someone keeps doing something to the d*mn autoclaves, and every like 4-6 months one of them breaks down. Then there was the time someone decided to change the pressure/temperature setting on an autoclave, and then left something in it over the weekend, which resulted in the next person opening it getting some nasty, but small, 2nd and 3rd degree burns(I think this is what finally killed it since they replaced it with a new one shortly after.)

    However the latest autoclave mishap was someone not checking that it was the autoclave that had a problem. Another autoclave quit working, and the tech comes out, and finds it isn't the autoclave that isn't working, something broke on the steam supply to the autoclave, and so no steam was getting to it. Have to wonder how long it was broke, because that autoclave isn't used often. Bet that gets checked from now on.

  2. I didn't know those things would corrode. However, I have also had to extract collapsed tubes from Ti45 rotors (oh so many times) with screws and pliers and liquid nitrogen, and have also had to deliver the "don't use cracked tubes, for the love of Cthulhu, people" lecture many a time. Also we shared an ultra with the lab downstairs and someone exploded something in it and didn't clean up... good times.

  3. Just an hour ago I went in the TC room to check some cultures and found that someone had messed up the TC scope- the focus wouldn't move up for down. It was wedged. How that even happens I cannot comprehend.

    So, I had to go use the IF scope. And if I find the bastard who keeps f*cking with the condenser, I will open a can of shared-use whoop @ss.