Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Lab

I'm nearing the end of my second lab rotation in my first year of graduate school, and if there's anything that the first rotation taught me it's that you spend lots of time trying to get great data towards the end. [one of] My current rotation projects is to determine if a splicing factor is recruited to pseudo-5' splice sites in intronless genes. What? Why is that worthwhile? Genes with introns get spliced, and if you don't have an intron why are you recruiting splicing factors? That's all!

But I won't go on with the molecular biology, I just want to show you my lab environment, and some of the highlights in detail. I'm very aware of how lovely some of these scientific apparatus [plural noun!] can be, but I always forget to bring a camera OR I'm too embarrassed to be taking pictures of the centrifuge when other people are around.

Today, Saturday, I figured not that many lab folks would be around so I packed my bag and went to school.
I brought my radio for NPR, half n' half for tea, a banana for me, and mittens.

1.8 miles away is my lab bench, and here it is. It is very messy.

My first imperative was that I find out the optical density of my starter cultures of yeast-- the organism our lab uses to study RNA splicing, and it's the same yeast used in beer and bread making so it smells great.

This is the machine that tells you what your optical density is, and I spend lots of time sitting in front of it. It's called a spectrophotometer, or spec.
You put your yeast culture in a cuvette and put it in the machine, and it will tell you how dense the culture is based on how much light it can pass through the sample. The cuvettes are pretty, and come in Styrofoam boxes like this:

Once you find your optical density you inoculate a bigger culture using sterile technique, which means being in close proximity to a FLAME! Here is my Bunsen burner.
It doesn't look very dramatic, but it's very warm-- I promise.

Once I've inoculated the larger cultures I bring them to the shaking incubator, which is set for 30 degrees Celsius [a little less than body temperature]. The neat and terrifying thing about this shaking incubator is that the culture flasks [below] are secured by only sticky strips of stickiness!

And this thing really gets going!

With the large flasks dubiously shaking on the dubious sticky surface, I went back to the bench for the second task: "frogging" yeast cultures onto solid media plates. The yeast in the shakers were growing in liquid media, but yeast also grows on solid media. First I had to make serial dilutions of concentrated yeast cultures, a task which involves many stereotypical science images. Like these two:

Blah, blah I'm on some TV show doing science with these multi-well plates and this multi-channel pipettor. But what about sterile technique? I need some FLAME!
Here, I'm flaming the "frogger" which "hops" from my multi-well plate with yeast culture dilutions to my solid media plates. In between each hop, I have to set the frogger on fire with ethanol and FIRE to make sure I get a clean hop each time.

I did a few other things today, but I'm going to just show the highlights of those in picture form. For instance, I had to spend some time in the cold room. It's a walk-in fridge where we store solid media plates and do experiments that need to happen at 4 degrees Celsius. Also, there is beer!

So if you find yourself spending lots of time in there, you can sit down and have a legitimate cold one, like so:
But shhhhh, don't tell the Howard Hughes Medical Institute!

Here is a long shot of the whole lab-- you can see my coat at my desk.

And here is the view outside my window at noon-- you can't escape the fluorescent lights, even when looking outside!

And here is the view at around 4pm-- it snowed!

This is the centrifuge-- it spins my samples. Which makes it sound like an underground DJ. Which it's not.

Here is another thing that spins stuff, in a more complex manner. See all those little tubes positioned around the "merry-go-round?" I have to fill all of those with a complicated mixture of CRAP-- 72 tubes, filled with 10 microliters of complicated liquids. It's my least favorite task.

Here is one of boxes of samples stored at -80 degrees Celsius.
It's not as lonely as the label makes it sound-- see, they're all together! In that very cold box!

And this is the most important piece of Scientific equipment of all-- the Eppendorf tube. Eppendorf is a company, and they make the little tubes that ALL our small amounts of fluid are stored in, spun down in, heated in, etc. We love Eppendorf tubes, because we have to!

I'll be there, in the lab, again tomorrow so if I've missed any great things I will take more pictures sans embarrassment because who would be there on New Years Eve day? We'll see!

1 comment:

jenovus said...

I love you for knowing (or at least looking up) that "apparatus" is the plural of "apparatus." I STUDIED LATIN AND I LOVE YOU, ERGO IT IS YOUR LUCKY DAY