Archive for the ‘Laboratory’ Category

A Sad Day in the Science Classroom

December 2, 2011

I opened up the Star Tribune to a sad story. From the Star Tribune:

Thursday morning, ninth-graders in the second-hour science class at Maple Grove Junior High School had turned their desks toward the science table where teacher Matthew Achor conducted experiments for the class final.

The first time the teacher dropped a match into a jug of methanol, Neuberger said the experiment seemed to work. “It made a loud boom and a little flame,” he said. “Everyone thought that was cool and clapped.”

Neuberger looked down at his paper to begin writing down his observations. “I’m pretty sure he was starting it up to do it a second time,” Neuberger said. “And the next thing I know I’m on fire.”

Several students were injured during this science experiment. One of the students, Dane Neuberger, was severely injured with second degree burns to his face.  All of the students are expected to make a full recovery, and according to the article it doesn’t look like Neuberger will need skin grafts. Only minor damage was sustained to the classroom.

Details are slim in the article, but it sounds like the appropriate actions were taken after the explosion. A fire blanket was used to wrap Neuberger and an ambulance was called immediately. The room was evacuated and the fire department was called to investigate. The article doesn’t discuss the type of bottle or the amount or type of methyl alcohol employed in the experiment.

The science behind what was being taught.

The purposes of this experiment could be to demonstrate an exothermic reaction, oxygen supply in combustions (if a narrow-necked bottle is used as heat, flame and gas exits the bottle, fresh oxygen is sucked back into the bottle, re-igniting any remaining methanol vapor), detonation velocity, expansion of gases, etc.

This video shows the experiment as performed on four different alcohols:

The way it works is that liquid methanol is put into a bottle and allowed to evaporate, leaving methanol vapor in the bottle. Heat energy – a match, in this case – is added to the bottle, causing a combustible chemical reaction. Visible flame and a loud whoosh” is heard during the reaction. The methanol vapors are ignited, and liquid by-product (H2O) is left in the bottom of the bottle.

In the article above it’s mentioned that this teacher had been performing this experiment for years, and I found several online mentions of this as an acceptable high-school chemistry-level experiment. Some sites perform the study outdoors, some indoors. I do not remember this experiment performed when I was in junior high or high school.

Science teachers – Do you use this experiment in your classes? What safety precautions do you employ? For the rest of you – Do you remember this experiment from your days in the chemistry classroom? Did you have any larger-than-intended explosions?

Nerd Trash Talk

November 9, 2011

I headed right up to the lab when I arrived at work this morning, which is a different pattern than I’ve had over the past several weeks. My most recent project has been a long-term study that I’ve been testing it in the later part of the day just because it’s a simple assay that I can throw on as I’m walking out the door at night. But usually I can be found in the lab at all hours of the day or night.

A relatively new coworker (and also my office mate with whom I get along well) saw me in the lab this morning and commented.

Him: What are you doing in the lab? You usually don’t stroll in until sometime after noon.

I’m in work mode and tend to make science jokes because I have a receptive audience here.

Me: Hey, buddy! Your observational data set of my behavior is dangerously small to be making any assumptions.

Him: Hey…I can only work with the data I have.

So, a relatively benign, forgettable, nerdish exchange. But I later realized that I had just asserted – in probably the geekiest way EVAR in all of recorded history:

“Bitch! You don’t know me!”

And I’ve been giggling all morning over that.

Lyme Disease – Always Learning.

October 21, 2011

If you’ve ever been camping or hiking or hunting or had an outdoor pet or gone anywhere near a tree or have a TV or know anyone who fits any of these situations, you’ve probably heard of Lyme Disease. I live in Minnesota, land of forests and lakes, big-ass mosquitos and lots and lots of ticks. I think it’s only natural and healthy for me to have an interest in the subject.

Disclaimers: I am not a doctor, nor an infectious disease researcher, nor a specialist on Lyme Disease or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PLDS). I do have experience with serological testing, immunoassays and laboratory science. This blog post was inspired by a press release about antibodies linked to long-term Lyme symptoms. I welcome and appreciate any comments, corrections or conversation that are expressed with respect, and in the case of claims, with references. Also, I hold up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the gold standard for dissemination of accurate and reliable public information on infectious disease. If you think that the CDC or “western medicine” is misguided or intentionally evil, or that all American physicians are controlled by the mob (hat tip to an earlier commenter), you should probably stop reading here.

Continue Reading

Academic Animal Dissection, FY!

October 17, 2011

This morning I saw one of my Facebook Friends showing off a t-shirt that really annoyed me:

Image shows a cartoon frog with the words “cut class, not frogs!” and “Don’t dissect.” “peta2”

Of course it’s a PETA shirt, which is one mark against it, but it’s the joyous anti-intellectualism of the message that first slapped me in the face. The cutesy message about cutting class makes me want to take a shower. Remember this summer’s marketing disaster for  JCPenny –  the “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me” t-shirt? Same sort of thing, but more gender-inclusive; Everyone can be anti-learning with this shirt! 

I’m making a lot of assumptions in these next couple of sentences, but they’ve held true in my experience. Don’t skip class – you miss out on interesting, important information. I’ve found that when I skipped classes, it was harder to grasp the big picture, and so the subject seemed more out of my grasp. Once this downward spiral starts, it’s easy to just pretend that the material is boring or irrelevant because you’re missing an entire hour’s worth (at least) of facts or information! Also, whatever you’ve missed is probably going to be on the test, and you’ll feel a lot less stressed and like more of a superstar if you do well on the test…you know, rather than failing it.

Second – do dissections! It’s not gross, it’s not weird, it’s cool as hell! You are looking at the internal workings of the machinery that drives a living being! The National Science Teacher’s Association supports animal dissection and believes that it can help students develop skills of observation and comparison, discover the shared and unique structures and processes of specific organisms, and develop a greater appreciation for the complexity of life.

The wet lab portions of my high-school and college A&P classes were amazing! Seeing how fine the nerves were, how intricate the cardiovascular system, with all of the tubes going into and out of the heart and through the lungs, and understanding how long the small and large intestines really were as they moved through my gloved hands for a length of time that seemed to go on forever – these experiences fueled my interest in anatomy and inspired me to ask questions in ways that I doubt a computer program would have. So much of what we do these days is digital, and I suspect performing a necropsy on a computer screen would be just another game for me.

So, I was feeling a little grumpy about the “cut class, not frogs” shirt. But this morning on Twitter I found a perfect way to raise my spirits. A teacher at Gaffney High School in Gaffney, South Carolina is requesting donations to help fund dissections in her classroom:

My Anatomy and Physiology students attend a high poverty school that has limited resources and monies available. They are juniors or seniors who have identified their career path to be in the health science field. Some have set goals to be lab technicians while others strive for their doctorates. All of them want to learn and are interested in the structure and function of the human body. We have an enormous amount of fun learning and utilizing the limited resources we have.

My Project: Future nurses, health care professionals, and doctors will be inspired to pursue their dreams by having hands on experience with preserved specimen dissections. Dissection tool kits, virtual dissection tutorials, and basic specimens of sheep eyes, hearts, and brains will create a curiosity of the structure and function of the human body that will last a lifetime.

Science is a difficult and intimidating subject to many teenagers. My goal is to remove these obstacles by providing lessons that motivate my students to learn and strive for a college degree. Hands on activities and labs are the pathway to see my students excel not only in science, but also in their life.

If you can spare $5 (or a few $5!) and you’re feeling sentimental about your old frog dissection days, why not stop by her website and help out? At the time of this posting, Mrs. Greene is only $109 away from meeting her goal.

Love: A Sad Science Story

February 3, 2011

A nice woman named Amy was giving away postcards.  You receive the postcard, take a picture with it and then send the picture back to her. It sounded like kind of a fun pen-pal deal-eo and I decided to do it.

Here’s the postcard she sent me:

So I took a picture. Or six. And may have written a really stupid story to go with it. Caution – HUGE LAB NERDINESS AHEAD!!! 

They met in the park when the summer blossoms were in full bloom.  It was love at first sight, and they knew that they would never be separated.

As they spun together around the fountain, she felt dizzy and lightheaded. They spun around and around and around.

She felt care-free and weightless.

They both liked Victorian cosplay, but she was a modern, intelligent, tech-savy woman, so she of course did her research on him before fully committing her heart.

And was horrified to learn that he had a chemical addiction problem!

He tried to explain, but it was too late – all of his pleadings smelled rotton.  

 And so she reluctantly walked away from his toxic love.

The End.

Bad Project (Lady Gaga parody)

January 26, 2011

This video from Zheng Lab just made my day. 

Been there, people!  Well, I haven’t been in the lab bench diapers and the biohazard dresses, but the indecipherable lab notebook and untraceable data, finding unlabeled, smelly samples fermenting in the cooler for months or years.  Blech!

Thanks to blog visitor Jim for the heads up.

Today My Lab is Busy

January 12, 2011

To be fair, in my line of work most of these are valid reasons to be bumped from an instrument.  It just means that I have a lot of “hurry up and wait” “”free”” time.  In which I have chosen to doodle.

Double quotations means that if I were speaking I would have given this word even GREATER emphasis than the phrase in single quotations.

Stuck in the Lab

December 22, 2010

Work is crazy today; I’m probably going to be pulling a 16-hour shift today.  Yikes!

At my work we’ve got these high-demand instruments.  I signed up to use two of them on this date, so I get them for today.  Tomorrow some other lucky scientist gets to use them.  But my studies just keep going wrong…and by “my studies just keep going wrong” I mean I keep finding new and creative ways to screw them up, whether it’s running the wrong protocol, QNS-ing the samples (Science-nerd points and a hand-drawn picture from me for the first person who tells me what QNS stands for!), using the wrong sample type or screwing around for so long that I’ve left my reagents on the bench past their room temperature stability limit.  Yeesh!

So, if I want to finish my studies before I leave for Christmas break (and my boss assures me that yes, in fact I do) I’m stuck here until they’re done. 

Picture the Jeopardy theme song here.

Luckily, I have Qdoba lunch leftovers (from today, even!) and a full soda machine in the lunch room.  Oooo…and some Ghirardelli chocolate squares that I received as a Christmas present from a coworker!  So I shan’t starve this evening, which makes the prospect of being stuck here a little less depressing.  I’m actually wanting to go sleep on the phlebotomy cot in one of the labs, but I don’t think the night security guy would approve.

Ah, science – you cruel, cruel mistress, you.

DADT Repeal Signing Ceremony

December 22, 2010

And just in case you missed the title up there:

DADT REPEAL SIGNING CEREMONY!!!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wd31FVdv93g

I listened to part of President Obama’s speech on NPR today while I was driving back from Qdoba.  You guys, I had tears in my eyes by the time I pulled into the parking lot.  Today an injustice was addressed.  I am so, so overjoyed that the gay men and women in this country who are putting their lives on the line to protect me and you and that jerk dinkus Fred Phelps will get to serve with honor and honesty.  That their partners will be able to be kept up to date on the status of the enlisted person when they are in combat.

Damn.  Tearing up again.

Of course, there is still work to do, and DADT is still in effect until the Defense Department and others have announced that they are able and ready to implement repeal of DADT, and then there is a 60-day waiting period after that

It will be interesting to see how the partners of gay and lesbian military personnel will be recognized.  Will they receive the same sort of benefits as heterosexual couples?  Does repealing DADT offer any sort of protection other than simply allow openly gay servicemembers to serve? 

Next stop:  Overturning the stupid rule that prevents gay and bisexual men from donating blood.  Oh, you thought I was going to say marriage.  Sillies!  Gay marriage is a political-cultural war.  We can do it, but you know what’s even easier?  Convincing the FDA that scientific evidence  shows that specific, sensitive HIV-tests are currently on the market (p24, NAT, RNA viral load), and that the risk of false-negatives could be very, very low if we chose to use these as standard screening.  And if that don’t stop ’em, convincing them that healthy gay men who don’t participate in country-hopping, needle-swapping, prostitution should be allowed to give every ounce as much as straight men.  Aaaaand barring that, to apply the same 12-month restriction on donation that straight men who engage in unprotected anal sex with a prostitute are under. 

Ugh!  I just went googled “Why can’t gay men” and this is what autofill popped up.  See?  Inquiring minds want to know!  Let’s GO, FDA!

Lab Supply Gingerbread Houses

December 16, 2010

A small group of us at work gathered together to celebrate the holidays.  A coworker and I planned the event and we decided to have a contest around building gingerbread houses…made of lab supplies! 

We supplied the glue guns, the cardboard bases and the little blue and green plastic squares (the first person who can tell me what they are will win my admiration and a hand-drawn picture by me!  Of course a drawing by me is more of a punishment than a prize…).  Five groups of two participated, and these are the results.

Now, it is important to remember that one can be a scientist AND an artist.  Indeed, I think science can open our eyes to beauty and elegance in all types of environments and situations which might otherwise go unnoticed. 

Ahem.  All types of environments.  Yeah…

******************

Update: 12/23/10

I finally got around to drawing MPM’s prize for being the first one to correctly identify the blue/green plates in the pictures above.  His answer is in the comments.