Debbie Knight

Archive for the ‘photo log’ Category

Photo of the Week

In lab safety, photo log on March 19, 2013 at 9:00 am

safety-sign

safety-shower

I was in my old stomping grounds — a building where my lab had been located some ten years ago.

I wasn’t looking for it, but I found this safety sign I had made (and posted).

Still there.

In the safety shower area.

The reason I put up this sign was that the nearby labs used this space to stash their cart. Now, I will admit, if this weren’t a designated safety shower, it would’ve made a great place to store a cart. However, if you are on fire or have some chemical burning your eyes, the last thing you’d want to do is take the time to shove a cart out of the way before dousing yourself in water.

Hence the sign.

I’m amazed it’s still there.

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Photo of the Week: Autoclave “Art”

In photo log on January 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm

autoclave art

This is what happens when a plastic bin melts in an autoclave.

I call this “autoclave art.”

Sometimes the “art” is quite interesting. Something you want to keep and hang on the lab wall.

Sometimes, as in this case, I find the “art” a bit pedestrian. However, it might make a cool picture frame. Albeit, its bubbly marshmallow detail might have a limited appeal.

So how did this happen?

Well, normally the autoclave sterilizes glassware, liquids, etc. using a combination of heat (121 degrees Celsius or 250 degrees Fahrenheit) and pressure (18 pounds per square inch). Most bacteria are killed under these conditions.

This particular autoclave malfunctioned and heated the chamber beyond (way beyond) the 250 degrees Fahrenheit. When I heard the autoclave’s alarm sounding, the pressure was 35 pounds per square inch (nearly twice the amount normally used). I’m not sure what the temperature was — the digital readout where the temperature would be displayed was screaming “Error! Error! Error!”

I’d say!

The temperature was high enough to melt the plastic bin the glass bottles and flasks were in.

autoclave art in situ

We had to call the repair guy this morning to fix the overheating issue and to help remove the plastic which had oozed through the wire mesh rack. He will take the rack (and the embedded artwork) back to the shop to melt off the plastic.

So long, autoclave art!

 

For more on autoclaves, see my previous post

 

 

Photo of the Week

In photo log on December 11, 2012 at 9:30 am

no-gloves-on-door---sign.

This is a sign I put on the office door (and a few other hallway doors) last week.

Some of my office mates (and their bosses) were forgetting to remove their lab gloves before touching the keypad and door handle.

This is a big no-no with regard to lab (and workplace) safety. At least at my institution.

Lab gloves should not be worn in public spaces.

Why? Any surface touched in the lab could have chemical, biological or radioactive residue that can transfer to lab gloves. That residue can then transfer to surfaces like keypads and door knobs that people touch with bare hands.

Sure the person might have just pulled on a pair of gloves, but there are no assurances that those gloves are goober-free.

So, a gentle reminder to those office mates.

Perhaps I should have rigged the door to deliver a mild electric shock.

Though I might secretly enjoy seeing that, I thought it more humane to start with words.

Photo of the Week

In photo log on November 13, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Yes, this is a picture of a lab shelving unit.

Boring?

Perhaps.

I certainly thought so, too, until a soon-to-retire professor told me the story behind it.

Apparently the black soot on the side of the shelving unit was the result of a lab fire from years ago.

Someone had stored ether (a highly flammable substance) in a refrigerator. Enough ether evaporated to fill the refrigerator compartment so when the compressor kicked on early one morning: ka-boom!

The refrigerator door blew off.

Flames shot everywhere.

The fire department was called.

And there was quite a bit of damage to the lab.

Luckily, it was early enough in the day that no one was working in the lab, thus no injuries.

The professor’s story certainly makes this boring old shelving unit just a little more interesting. At least to me.

Photo of the Week

In photo log on November 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm

A new office mate was unpacking his desk. One of the items was the molecular biologist’s “bible” also known as “Current Protocols in Molecular Biology.” My lab has one of these as well – although we haven’t kept it current with the subscription which offers periodic updates. So, I guess you would call ours a “Not-so-current Current Protocols in Molecular Biology.”

Our meager three-volume set dates back to the early 1990’s. A lot has changed in the world of molecular biology since then. We subscribed for a couple of years, but it was a real pain in the buttocks to insert the updates (which sometimes involved removing existing pages).

Despite its outdatedness, our set is still useful.

It not only offers tried and true scientific protocols, but also gives good background on the techniques (like why you add reagent Z after reagent A) and troubleshooting tips (like why adding reagent Z before reagent A is not such a good idea).

I’ll admit  I rarely use this handy reference.

I often turn to commercially-available kits for much of my molecular biology needs.

Case in point, my new office mate relayed the following hallway conversation he had recently. (For simplicity, the office mate we’ll call “Dude-1” and the person from a neighboring lab “Dude-2.”)

Dude-2: Do you know how to clone a gene?
Dude-1: Sure, I know how to do that, but I haven’t done it in a long time.
Dude-2: What kind of kit did you use?
Dude-1: Kit? I didn’t use a kit. I made all the reagents myself.
Dude-2: Oh. Um. Well, thanks any way.
Exit Dude-2 as he walks to the next (and hopefully more “hip”) lab seeking his answer.

A subscription to “Current Protocols in Molecular Biology” isn’t cheap.

According to the website, it now costs $1200 for a new one-year subscription to the six-volume set and $650 to renew. And keeping up with the times, there’s also an online subscription rate for labs: $550 per year.

For smaller labs running on a shoe-string budget, this subscription rate (whether online or hard copy) is cost prohibitive. This might explain why we haven’t had a subscription for many (many!) moons.

Photo of the Week

In photo log on October 17, 2012 at 11:27 am

I saw this sign in a research building. Although not specified, I’m pretty sure the sign means gloves worn in the laboratory setting and not wooly winter gloves.

Clearly someone has worn lab gloves in the elevator more than once — enough times to motivate someone to write a message in red capital letters — and bolded, underlined for emphasis.

This is a big no-no in the lab safety world. Lab gloves are not meant to be worn in non-lab (or “common”) areas like hallways, offices, stairwells and elevators.

Why? What’s the big deal?

Well, scientists wear gloves to protect themselves from chemicals and biological reagents in the lab. They also wear them to protect experiments — our skin has many things on it that can contaminate a sensitive assay.

So, here’s a scientist, straight from the lab, touching all sorts of doors and buttons that everyone touches. You see a person wandering around in the hallway or getting on the elevator donned in gloves and you wonder what sorts of lab stuff is on those gloves. Sure the gloves could be “clean,” just put on by the researcher. But only the researcher knows that.

Of course, hallways and elevators aren’t the only problem areas. I’ve seen people wear their lab coat (and gloves) into public restrooms. Not the brightest thing to do. Those researchers risk getting all kinds of bathroom germs on their lab coat (germs that could contaminate their  experiments). But, more importantly, that lab coat also drags possible contaminants (chemical, biological or radioactive) from the lab into the restroom. Now everyone has been unwittingly exposed to lab “stuff.”

As unbelievable as it sounds, a sign had to be posted on the restroom doors on our floor to remind people to check their lab coats, gloves, and masks at the door.

These safety rules are supposedly taught to all lab personnel.

Apparently someone didn’t get the memo.

Photo of the Week

In photo log on October 3, 2012 at 11:23 am

I felt a little like a librarian yesterday — only in reverse. Instead of shelving scientific journals, I was placing them on the cart and hauling them to the recycling bin.

Our conference room, once lined with bookshelves filled with journals, is to be converted to office space. I was tasked with removing the journals.

Among the journals, there was one called “Modern Pathology.” And with the most recent copy from 1999, a smile came to my face as I thought perhaps they are now “not-so-modern pathology.”

As I was throwing the journals in the recycling dumpster, I couldn’t help but think of all the energy and effort that went into making and shipping each volume. The pride each researcher had when his or her article was finally in print. Or how many of those volumes had groundbreaking research reported inside. And how that research stood the test of time.

Photo of the Week

In photo log on September 19, 2012 at 9:00 am

I saw this rather sad-looking chair in a lab down the hall from me.

Why is it enshrouded in a very “fashionable” black trash bag embellished with bright green labeling tape?

Well, this is one way to make a cloth chair usable in a lab that works with biohazardous materials. In case some of the biohazardous material (like blood) is splashed on the chair, the plastic allows for easy cleaning and decontamination. If the biohazard would land on cloth, it would just soak into the fabric. Not a desirable situation in a research laboratory.

Although functional, I think I might have gone with a little more label tape. You know, to really make a statement. 🙂

Photo of the Week

In photo log on August 28, 2012 at 9:00 am

I mentioned last week that a newly-hired professor shipped 15 packages overnight on dry ice. Many of the packages contained boxes of irreplaceable biological samples.

I found it amusing that one box in particular was labeled “Useful one!”

Does this mean the rest of the samples he shipped were not?  

🙂

Photo of the Week

In photo log on August 21, 2012 at 9:30 am

This is a photo of the side of our lab freezer.

The white board allows lab members to keep track of what needs to be ordered, what solutions need to be made, and what tasks need to be done. It allows us to communicate.

And the clutter of signs that surround this white board? All of it is lab safety information.

Information we have to display, according to our lab safety inspector.

I think all these posted signs are a little overwhelming. And the important information they each carry gets lost. It’s like trying to read a really long paragraph in a newspaper or magazine article. The reader becomes exhausted just looking at the  paragraph — not from the content, but from the visual size of it.

I would so love to consolidate the messages into a single sheet of paper. Or maybe, at the most, two sheets of paper. Maybe even make them visually interesting so they are more easily noticed.

I think then the messages would communicate effectively.

For example, here is how a lab door going into our autoclave room looked before:

and after I consolidated the messages:

Simplification can mean better communication (at least in my humble opinion).