Blog Archive

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Step Into The Science Kitchen

I like analogies. They're great. I use the excuse that they make things easier to relate to and understand, but really it's because I find coming up with them really fun!

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My go-to analogy for the laboratory is that it's like a kitchen where you can't eat anything without getting horribly ill (like my parents' kitchen when mum's making cakes for people, #coeliaclife). I wanted to explore that today, with pictures from a real lab (my one) to help! Also because I don't have much time for the blog today and pictures each contribute 1000 words to the overall word count, or something like that.

First up, pop your apron on! Things get messy in the science kitchen, you don't want flour on your nice clothes! Or anything corrosive or highly toxic either. Or Crystal Violet, that stuff is a nightmare to get out!

Get your ingredients out! In the science kitchen everything comes in almost identical packages but everything has big clear labels so it's fine. Some cupboards are locked up because they're full of flammable or more-toxic-than-normal things, just like the liquor cabinet at home.

Time to weigh out the ingredients! To much higher accuracy than in a normal kitchen, sometimes so sensitively that you need a special box that stops air movement wobbling the scales! I always get confused at home when the scales are set to the nearest whole gram, my dinner has large error bars.

I'll be honest with you here, it took me a minute to work out why we have a ladle in the lab. It's for liquid Nitrogen stuff like RNA extractions I think, I've not done that yet though. Maybe it's just there for ladling, who knows?

This is the autoclave! It's like a big pressure cooker, we use it to sterilise things. And boil agar so it sets properly! Like a weird pressure-cooked jelly that bacteria eat. Sometimes they smell quite nice actually, in a lab media kind of way.

This microwave wouldn't look at all out of place in a normal kitchen. It even has settings for meat and poultry! We use it for all sorts of things like melting or boiling agar that's already sterile or doesn't need to be.

Incubators are like proving ovens! Almost exactly like them actually, you could probably raise some dough in one of these pretty precisely. These go to all sorts of fun temperatures though, and some can even move! The little one on the right here can jiggle around to shake liquid cultures as they incubate to keep them aerated and mixed well. They normally smell like bacteria and agar rather than delicious fresh bread though. You can normally tell if there's some Pseudomonas around, they smell distinctive! Like a bad ear infection. (Because it's often the same thing)

All done for now? Pop it in the freezer! These work just like a normal freezer, but go much colder. The two on the left here are at minus eighty degrees! We store all sorts in these, from live bacteria to DNA samples, and all sorts of other stuff in between (like enzymes and dNTPs). The fridge on the right is at four degrees, like a normal fridge in your kitchen should be. These are for storing more ingredients for experiments, fresh agar plates, and things like that. Just like a normal fridge! No milk though, not here at least.

Time to wash up! While a lot of stuff we use is disposable, like petri dishes, all the glassware and measuring jugs go in the dishwasher just like at home. It's important to tidy up after yourself! Which reminds me I have things to take out of the autoclave, they're probably done by now. I'd better wrap up here!

Don't forget to wash your hands afterwards! Important in the science kitchen so we don't get ill. Same as a normal kitchen! Always wash your hands folks, even if you were wearing gloves.

So there we have it! A very brief tour of all the things that are common between labs and kitchens. So remember, next time you're doing some baking, you're doing science like me! Just tastier hopefully, with slightly fewer risks and safety protocols.

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