Abandoned Lab

Two shelves I filled up with pipette tips.
Two shelves I filled up with pipette tips.

Last week the rice research lab I work in was all but abandoned due to a local conference on plant pathogens.

I didn’t go to the conference as I’ll soon be changing to working entirely onĀ C. elegans.

Spending the lab’s money on me learning more about a topic that I probably won’t encounter again would’ve made me feel guilty.

I was left in the lab with a few people who stayed behind or came back early.

I finished all my usual duties in the lab like taking care of plants and setting up stuff for next week, but I still had a lot of extra time before the end of the day.

I cleaned up the lab a bit and… FILLED TIPS.

I filled two entire shelves with boxes of tips.

You might be wondering what are tips and what are they used for?

Biological research often requires very small amounts of liquid to be measured.

For comparison, in the science we usually measure volumes of liquids in liters.

Most people are familiar with liters in the form of those two liter soda bottles that are used for parties.

A milliliter is equal to one thousandth of a liter, or two thousandths of a soda bottle.

A milliliter is still rather big though. It’s about the size of the last joint on your pinky finger.

The research I perform measures liquids in microliters, which are one thousandth of a milliliter (or two millionths of a soda bottle).

A microliter is about as big as a period.

So how is something that small measured?

With a pipette!

A pipette is essentially a mechanical suction device, similar to a straw.

A pipette tip is added on to the sharp end of the device you see above.

The button on top is pressed down, expelling a specific volume of air from the pipette.

When the button is released the pipette sucks that volume back up into the pipette tip.

Pretty much the same principle as using a straw to drink a two-liter bottle of soda.

The amount of air expelled from a pipette allows researchers like me to work with extremely small volumes. Some pipettes can even measure volumes as small as a thousandth of a micoliter (Another name for that is a nanoliter).

When working with small volumes like this its even more important to be clean.

Any small contaminant on the pipette tip would be a large contaminant in a mixture of only a few microliters.

So the tips are put into those boxes in the first picture and then autoclaved to sterilize them.

Oh and here’s a closeup of a pipette tip!

-Mister Ed

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Lab Construction Work

The new shelves where rice seeds for the sequencing project I work on will be stored.
The new shelves where rice seeds for the sequencing project I work on will be stored.

Yesterday I got home pretty tired after work.

The picture above is what I did at work. I made some shelves and put some boxes on them. That took all day.

The shelves came in five different cardboard boxes.

The lab manager and I put the shelves together in the hallway because there isn’t enough room for it on the floor in this room. That took about an hour.

We pushed the shelves in after putting them together. Everyone laughed thinking that we couldn’t fit them through the door. SHOWED THEM DIDN’T WE?!?

The shelves are seven feet tall. They’ll be holding the thousands of different varieties of seed in those boxes on them.

Next, the lab manager wanted to construct another set of shelves for other lab storage.

This other shelf had to fit into a space taken up by even more shelves.

The lab manager, another lab guy, and I spent half an hour shoving the other shelves around until there was just enough room to squeeze the new set of shelves in.

The lab manager started putting together that other shelf while I and the other lab guy worked on those boxes you can see in the picture.

Each box holds more than a hundred varieties of seed. Some hold close to 600.

These seeds were stored in ordinary cardboard boxes previously. Like the kind that you pack your stuff in when you move.

This storage was pretty unorganized. Our job is to sort them out and put them into the new boxes which will be much more organized.

So I spent all day taking envelopes of rice seeds from one box, writing down what the envelopes said on an Excel sheet, and putting the envelope into a new box.

It is WAY more ordered now. Previously, it’d take 5 minutes to find a particular variety of seed. When we’re done it’ll take 5 seconds.

I worked my way through one cardboard moving box and was on my second when the day finished.

The other lab worker and I got through about 1,000 seed varieties each. Lots more boxes to go through though!

This taste of the more mundane side of lab life was brought to you by the talking horse.

-Mister Ed