Friday, December 7, 2007

Portable PH meter

After the HCl fume incident, I decided to get a portable PH meter for our research group. After explaining what is going on in the labs to a Primary Investigator, I got a permission to purchase one. (He offered to get one for the entire group!!)

So, here is what it looks like. The pH meter is Denver Instrument UltraBasic Portable Meters.
We found a small box and placed all the calibration buffers as well as manual.

One step closer to a safer laboratory practice!!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Phenol and Chloroform

I have been wondering for years about this but apparently what I have been worrying about has been happening everywhere.

Yet again I came across to someone using PHENOL: CHLOROFORM: ISOAMYL ALCOHOL 25:2 outside the chemical hood. PHENOL: CHLOROFORM: ISOAMYL ALCOHOL is a pretty toxic substance even if you just inhale. I mean mixture of phenol + chloroform is in no way good for you.

So I took a quick survey to people I know and it tuned out A LOT OF THEM deal with it outside the hood. One of them even told me "back then (when he was still a student), we had to purify one of the component and the lab would stunk of phenol and chloroform. I remember it heart our eyes a little bit.

Come on!!!! It's toxic and possibly carcinogenic!!!!

Can you believe this?! I know the amount they use is probably not a big deal but think about people who work around you. If you are planning to spend the rest of your life being a scientist, how much will you breath in?

I hope people who read this will rethink the way they deal with dangerous chemicals.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Deleting a gene may make you live longer!

Scientists have found a gene that might be responsible for aging. They have created mice lacking this gene and the mice seem to live longer despite eating more and weight less.

The gene encode for a protein called type 5 adenylyl cyclase (AC5) and scientists are already developing drugs to inhibit the protein.

For more detail report please click here.

Labeling water tank

Recently our lab had the annul lab inspection. I still remember the first time I went through it and it was not a very present experience.
One thing I found very interesting was that the inspector wanted us to label the water tank. It was very obvious the water tank was only used for water in our lab (we only had one water tank and it is essential in every lab so if you only have one, for sure it contains water), yet the inspector wanted us to label it.

I understood the importance of labeling everything in the lab because many solutions are clear and there is no way to tell what the solution is by just looking at it.

This incident reminded me of TV programs such as CSI, X-file or any programs that has something to do with labs. If you pay attention, none of the bottle or tubes are labeled in their labs. It is amazing how they can even get results and solve crimes or mysteries.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Training new lab members

Having worked in labs for sometime, I came to realize that a lot of people read a resume, hire a new lab personnel, and assume the new member can perform without almost any training because the new member's resume indicated he/she had done it before.
A lot of time hiring decision is done solely by a primary investigator (PI) and for some reason they tend to think

"This person has a MS degree and some experience in research so he/she should know how to do XYZ protocol"


" This person has done this protocol/experiment before, he/she should be able to do what we do here".

What these PIs tend to forget is that every lab do the same experiment differently and every person has his/her way of doing things. It is wrong to assume the new lab member will do exactly the way the PI wanted without any proper training.

This is also true for experienced lab members. I have seen so many times, existing lab members assume a new lab member can complete an experiment the second day he/she joined the lab just because the new member has a MS degree.

So what is a good way to train a new lab member?

1)Explain and demonstrate the procedure.
Just let the new members to watch and point out what is important as well as to remind them to take notes.

2)Let the new member to carry out the procedure once with your supervision.
This will give the new members a chance to feel what it feels like to actually do it.

3)Let the new member to carry out the procedure without your supervision, BUT be sure to stay near by in case they have questions.
This will make the new members to really think about what they are doing. Be prepare to answer a lot of questions. If there is no questions, be sure to peak and check on what is going on because most of the time they are doing something wrong.
Additionally, This step will also give the new member an impression that you trust him/her and think he/she is capable enough to carry out the procedure by themselves.

Note: If you feel the new member is not ready for step 3), make sure to repeat step 2) several times. This happens commonly when training volunteers because they may not have science background.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

How to mix centrifuge tubes fast, gently and efficiently?

Have you ever got so frustrated while mixing those small centrifuge tubes? Especially when you cannot mix them with a Vortex Genie mixer because the protocol needs you to mix the samples gently!

Imagine if you have to mix 20 tubes of such samples!!! Instead of tapping the tubes with your index finger (maybe you are using middle finger by now), try using an empty tip box. You can hold two to three centrifuge tubes at once and mix the samples fast, gently, and efficiently!!

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Apprentice™ Rotating Desk Organizer

I am a big fun of the TV show Apprentice. It was sad that Donald Trump decided to discontinue the show but I believe he will come up with exciting TV shows again in the near future.

The Apprentice™ Rotating Desk Organizer was created in one of the episode that each team had to come up with a product for Staples the stationary supplier.

I bought one of this for the lab and it is a wonderful fit for the lab!! You can put so many things inside the organizer. It is a little big so I got a tray and put the organizer on the top. Now we have a portable stationary station.

Jammed film developers

"Not again. It just happens too often"

The lab tech who works next to my lab was complaining to me about the film developer in the darkroom.

Ever since I joined the current lab, it has been an issue about how often the developer breaks down, or maybe I should say "get jammed". There are only two developers in the building and one of them located on our floor is an antique. The lab tech next door is in charge of taking care the antique so no wonder she gets so frustrated.

"Did you know the one downstairs is also jammed?"

The one downstairs is a more modern model and as you can imagine most people use that one instead of the one on our floor. Now if that one gets jammed and no body fixes it, we may all just call it a day and go home. That is how vital the film developer is for everyone's research.

"No way" I said.

"They were both jammed with a cardboard paper" she said.

This must be someone new I thought because I had a student who I supervised last summer almost made the same mistake. It is a common mistake if no body tells you what a film looks and feels like because films are sandwiched by two cardboard papers in the film box.

We decided to talk to administrators of the building and see if they can do something about it. It tuned out they have tried many ways to fix this problem (put the jammed film and notes on the wall, send out emails to all the Primary investigators, spread the words etc) but none of these worked.

"We are spending so much money getting maintenance to fix the film developers" one the administrator told us. "It is happening way too often and I used to get so mad every time it happened" I could see how mad she used to get by her facial expression.

So in the end we decided that doing something is better than doing nothing. We put up signs right next to the dark room and posted the cardboard that was jammed inside the machine.

We shall see what will happen.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Squeeze everything you can in the lab

If you have worked in a lab (especially University lab), then you probably have come across to space problems.

Here is one of my idea. I purchased some file boxes and put them right next to the small space of my desk. These spaces exist in other labs too (every lab is the same and that is how most research buildings are designed) but they are used for putting umbrella, small boxes, old posters or some junk.

Look around your lab, there may be spaces you can turn them into something else.

Blonds can spread their stupidness

According to a study done by French researchers, people who viewed photos of blond women had a decreased intelligent performance. this was also true for women who participated the study.

The study was published in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and they argue that stereo typing is the cause of this results. Having looked at someone who you assume is less intelligent than you are, you are more likely to act less intelligent.

This explains why in history, some heroes pretended that they were weaker, less capable, or less intelligent than their opponents under certain situations to get out of trouble. They understood the psychology and used it wisely.

Never underestimate someone by their appearance.

If you are interested, here is the link to the original paper

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What makes me mad in the lab

Every time I come across to someone who teaches a bad/unsafe way of doing science, it makes me mad. I am not saying everything I do is right and I am not saying everyone I trained is perfect, but as a science teacher, you need to understand what the consequence of not teaching the right way.

This happened when I was doing my Master degree in Biological Sciences. It was about 8 months after I joined the lab that I deiced to do my thesis project when I developed sun-sensitivity. I just could not go under the sun and if I do I developed red rash and my skin would exfoliate (peel). I had never experienced something like that up till then, and every doctor I saw had no idea why it happened to me.

Now that I reflect the experience, I think it might have been the chemicals I was exposed to in the lab. I was dealing with chemicals like CHAPS, SDS powders without any protective ware. I was weighting these chemicals outside the chemical hood. No body told me to use protective ware except I was told "If you need them, we have them".

We also had projects that required arsenite, arcenate, selenate etc and person who was on the project weighted all these chemical outside the hood.

I still remember my supervisor making his coffee using water from a MilliQ in the lab.
This is what happens when you spend so much time in the lab. You become immune to so many things that are actually/potentially dangerous.

Having said that I still respect my supervisor as a scientist even though he might not have been a really good example as a teacher.

I continued to experience the sun-sensitivity condition even after my graduation. It finally went away after 2 years I left the lab.

HCl (Hydrochloric acid) fume

I had no intention for it to become an argument.

"Will you feel better if I do it myself?" the person shouted at me.

That was not the point I thought, but it was already too late to take my words back by then.

The whole thing started when I walk pass by someone who was making a Tris based buffer. If you have ever made a Tris based buffer, you probably know how much acid is required to adjust the Tris buffer's PH.

This person was instructing a student to add 12M HCl acid (the non diluted HCl acid) to the buffer outside the hood. There were smell of HCl fume within several meters from where they were standing. What made it worse was there was someone's desk near by and that person was exposed to the HCl fume all the time.

"You should do that in the hood. I don't think that is the way to do it!" I said to the person instructing.

That's how it all started. It was my mistake to point it out in the public. The person instructing all the sudden became very defensive. It was obvious that the person knew it was not the right thing to do.

"There is no PH meter in the hood. I am not going to bring the whole PH meter there and back every time I make a buffer, besides everyone do it this way"

"But that's not the right way" I looked at the student, wondering if she even knew the danger of breathing HCl fume

"Do you feel better if I do it myself? What about methanol? Do you go to the chemical hood when you are dealing with that?"

The person is referring to methanol used in Western blotting buffer. It is impossible to do the entire western blotting procedure in the chemical hood but at least I wear mask and eye protection.

"No, but this is more dangerous" I answered, but the instructor did not seem to be convinced.

I decided not to continue with this non sense argument and walked away.

It is frustrating sometimes when you talk to someone who is really experienced in Science. They have already developed their own way of doing things and are not willing to change for the safety sake because it usually takes extra effort.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Lab my Life

Ever since I was small, my dream was to become an Inventor. (Thomas Eidson was my hero back then and still is on my "Respectable Human Beings" list.)
However, just like a little ant squashed by an elephant, that dream disappeared when I learned Physics was not my my forte at tender age of 17.

Since then, I changed my direction and got a Biochemistry degree. Then got a Master in Biological Science.
"Why Science?" you may ask. Being a scientist is like being an inventor if you study the right subject such as Chemistry. You can invent new chemicals if you are into Organic/Inorganic Chemistry. You can invent new ways of exploring /measuring molecules if you are into Physical Chemistry. You can design new drugs if you are into interdisciplinary Chemistry.

You may say "but you don't have a Chemistry Degree". Well, life as it turned out was really a Bi#$. Chemistry was not my forte either.
So, here I am. After spending half a decade getting Science degrees, I have been spending the last 4 years working in a lab as a Lab tech.