To an untrained eye, working in a lab can seem boring, repetitive, and tedious. It is anything but that. A seasoned scientist is really an artist, painting across an untouched canvass of knowledge, surrounded by grotesque sculptures of unique laboratory equipment. Building52 is an attempt to flesh out my daily experience of working as a scientist, as well as to portray the surroundings in which my research takes place.
Figure 1: Gatekeepers of knowledge. Keeping a tight lid on this place. Some of the greatest scientific minds pass these gates every morning on their way to work. Be it an epidemic-crushing vaccine, or a life-saving drug, these guys got you covered.
Figure 3: GLaDOS. The big sister is watching. Having your every move surveilled and recorded is eerie at first, but you get used to it. A small price to pay for being a part of this greatness.
Figure 4: Under a watchful eye. You cannot run, you cannot hide. Yep, these things are everywhere.
Figure 5: Getting iced. Making a journey down the hall to pick up ice, an everyday morning routine.
Figure 6: Just chillin'. Samples and reagents are thawing on ice before being used in experiments. These are usually kept at sub-zero temperatures for long-term storage. Taking them out of the freezers and keeping them on ice allows for gradual warming, preserving sample integrity and reagent activity.
Figure 7: Divine scripture. Chaos breeds creation, lab notebook documents it. Every day begins with careful instructions being written out to follow, like an elaborate recipe for an extravagant dish. Additional notes are scribbled in as the experiments progress. If only those margins could talk...
Figure 8: Agent 47. With so many tools and doodads available to perform lab work, it is easy to often feel like a spy on a mission, utilizing gadgets to get out of tight spots. I like my cell culture medium shaken, not stirred.
Figure 9: Performing ART. Science is art, and it uses awe-inspiring paints and brushes. Just look at those colors and shapes! Processing cell culture samples sure is a vibrant experience. It is as if one were working inside a Kandinsky painting.
Figure 10: 22-inch spinner. Spinner. Centrifuge. Get it? Samples are "spun down" to separate them. Solids from liquids. Large particles from small. Allows scientists to purify and isolate the specific materials they are working with.
Figure 11: Hurry up then wait. It is not uncommon to have 30 minutes of solid meticulous work and then several hours of incubation. Most of this downtime is filled with other projects running in parallel, an ultimate multitasking greatness. Sometimes, having a good book comes in handy. Oftentimes, looking at pictures of cats online wins out.
Figure 12: Thoughtful reflection. Utmost concentration is required. Cross-contamination is a constant threat when working with multiple samples at a time. One stray drop is enough to derail weeks or even months of hard diligent work. Better pay attention. Can you sense the perspiration?
Figure 13: Going viral. Cell culture is an excellent way to grow viruses. Each well in a plate has a base layer of cells infected with a particular flavor of a virus. The deliciously nutritious Kool-Aid medium feeds the cells, allowing them to grow and multiply, which in turn gives the virus more targets to infect, establishing additional factories to produce more copies of itself.
Figure 14: Wasted. Unfortunately, this art generates a lot of bi-product. Some of it is dangerous. Some of it is paper towels. It would be a nightmare trying to sort all this waste. Soiled nitrile gloves - is that recycling? Hmmm.
Figure 15: The Winter is here! The processed samples are put away for extended preservation in a -80C freezer. Some of these will be used again, some of these will be shipped to other labs for further processing, most of these will freeze into one giant popsicle mess that will haunt the next post-doc trying to put together the remnants of ancient research. Seriously, no one knows what is in there. Fortunately, Jon Snow is here to keep watch over things lurking in the back of the freezer.
Figure 16: Lunch break. Om-nom-nom-nom. That is the sound of revolutionary ideas flowing around openly; of research collaborations being conceived with every pizza bite; of Game of Thrones spoilers flinging about carelessly...What!? Scientists are humans too.
Figure 17: Creature from the orange break-room. Remarkably, the large collection of beautiful minds also happens to be an enormous aggregate of introverts. Scientists can work side-by-side for years and never greet each other, avoiding interaction at all costs. This makes for particularly awkward moments in the break-room, standing next to fellow alien creature, waiting for the microwave to finish reheating yesterday's leftovers.
Figure 18: Headgear. Safety is paramount. Just as there are numerous tools to conduct research, there are equally many safety measures to keep all eyes, fingers, and limbs firmly attached to the body.
Figure 19: Lab work is a riot. There is nothing else I would rather be doing instead. Where else would I get to wear such fly splash-proof UV-impenetrable face shield accessory from the Spring Safety Fashion collection?
Figure 20: Yellow dot marks the spot. The spot being an indicator for the optimal safety shower splash zone, in case some dangerous chemicals or contaminants find their way onto your clothes and have to be doused off. Never had to use one. Hope to never have to use one in the future.
Figure 21: Polyurethane meltdown. Believe it or not, the white "bubbly stuff" covering bottles, etc, used to be a plastic tray at some point. It melted inside a high-temperature high-pressure autoclave oven during sterilization of the pictured equipment. Special autoclavable trays have to be used in such cases. Someone was not paying attention.
Figure 22: Animal water-farm. Scientists find the silliest things amusing. Industry vendors are well aware of that and strive to find creative ways to entertain researchers in order to generate more business. It works! Especially if the items are free and surprisingly practical, like these tube floaties for a water bath incubator. Many Lab Rats devote years to collecting similar artifacts, which are a great source of pride and joy.
Figure 23: 6 rounds in the cylinder. By far the most used tool in the lab - pipette. Basically, at this point, I am just a professional pipettor with some extra skills on the side, as these things see action for approximately 90% of the tasks that get accomplished in the lab. For this reason, it is imperative to calibrate pipettes as often as possible.
Figure 24: We're gellin'. Agarose gels are a common tool for DNA evaluation and often find their way into popular media, like CSI shows, whenever genetic analysis is mentioned. Remember images with lines all over? That is DNA fingerprinting. Loading gels, however, can be a real pain in the bucket, as the wells that receive DNA are usually small and clear in appearance, making them very hard to see. Much like pipetting, running gels is a highly skilled art form.
Figure 25: Welcome to the fishbowl. Privacy is rather negligible, but at least the view is nice. Perhaps they are taking this whole transparency thing a tad too literally. Typing up notes and analyzing data before heading out. Today was a good day.