Debbie Knight

Like Riding a Bicycle…With Flat Tires

In observation on February 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm

As of this month, I am working in my former lab after a brief three-year respite working in another lab. So, returning to a lab where I used to work is a little like riding a bike, only the tires are flat. What I mean is, everything in the lab is familiar, but it’s not.

Things have changed.

For instance, the autoclave (a machine that uses heat and pressure to sterilize things like glassware or liquid reagents) is new. I’ve worked with many different kinds of autoclaves in my research life – starting with one that was totally manual, where you have to tighten a door by hand and it looks like it could belong on a submarine.

This type of autoclave you had to remember to turn on and off the steam (the source of the heat and pressure for sterilization) as well as vent the steam out, either slowly for liquids or quickly for glassware.

Yesterday, I used the new-to-me autoclave, which is pretty automated (you just make a selection and push a button and the autoclave does the rest), to sterilize some glassware. And it worked without a hitch.

And today? I’m trying to sterilize some phosphate-buffered saline (also called PBS — a staple in a tissue culture lab such as mine) on the liquid cycle. And what happens? It malfunctions during the cycle. Of course.

Now, I should note that there’s nobody left on the floor that actually knows what to do in this situation. The person that did know now lives in New Mexico – not a lot of help. And while I’ve had experience with many autoclaves, I’ve never used this particular model – and each model has its subtleties.

Luckily, the manual was left near the autoclave. You’d be surprised how often the manual is stashed away in an unlabeled drawer, nowhere near the equipment.

Ah, the manual. So far the manual has only been helpful in telling me how to turn the alarm off (which is highly annoying – as alarms should be).

Meanwhile, the PBS is still in the autoclave, not sterilized – a metal door stands between us. I have no idea how to get the door to open. I have no idea if I need to call someone to service the autoclave.

I will riffle through the manual once more to see if it will provide any further insights. If not, I’ll have to call for help. But that’s another issue – who to call.

Like I said:  flat tires – and getting nowhere fast!


Epilogue: The manual was no help, so I resorted to pushing buttons. After several attempts, I managed to push the right sequence of buttons and was able to restart the sterilization cycle, successfully sterilizing the PBS.

Gotta love that bicycle I’m riding!


  1. […] blog posts better is something I intend to work on this year. One of my most popular posts “Like riding a bike – with flat tires” had an unintentional outcome. It was posted on February 4th. But in March I started getting an […]

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