Wednesday, 13th June 2012

Frozen in space and time



Now don't get me wrong, I love my job, I really do. I don't think there are many other opportunities in this world where I could get to be a biochemist, chemist, physicist, engineer and software developer all in one day. But I really wish that mistakes weren't so punishing.

Yesterday afternoon I spent over an hour a half preparing buffers and making sure that they weren't too acidic or too basic, to then spend nearly 2 hours getting my sample into those buffers. Admittedly I've been putting off this experiment for some time now as I couldn't face an entire afternoon sat in front of a pH meter and centrifuge, but it was with the notion that today would be an easy day. Come in, turn the machine on run the samples, go home.

But as with all good plans quickly unravel. The first problem was that our “chilled water” supply into the lab (used to cool the machines, like a backwards radiator) was distinctly above room temperature and decidedly warm to the touch after the machine was on for an hour. Nothing I'm not used to though in this place, and nothing that I can't use my imagination to get around.

The second problem is that it takes nearly 2 hours for the sample space in the machine to get down to -263 ºC. Well that's not a problem, that's a known constant. The problem is that when you put your sample in and you put it in a millimeter too far, so that rather than hanging in space it's touching the bottom of the container, freezing it in place and making it impossible to remove.

So my day that should have been:

Working day = (10 samples X (30 mins machine time per sample + 10 mins sample change time)) + 2 hour cooling down time

= 8 hours 40 mins

Instead became an inserted step of wait 30 minutes until the sample space had warmed up enough to loosen the seals and then an hour to take the sample space apart, remove the sample and reconstruct. Another 30 mins later and we were back down to temperature.

1 mm today has cost me 2 hours.

Since then other sample placement mistakes have cost me an hour. But then it's difficult to correctly insert a sample when it's completely enclosed and the only measure you have is a single pixel line similar to a heart rate monitor, on a 5 inch screen on the other side of the room.

Ah well, looks like I won't be going home tonight til gone 9. 


UPDATE @ 1841: Well I've just had another tube freeze in the cavity and another sample exploded. So I'm done with it for today. I'm clearing up and then I'm going home.

About Morgan Bye

Scientist, programmer and all around techie