Your lab is sinking, grab the _____?

Mar 29 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

I've been thinking a bit lately about equipment in the lab that is vital to our work and how best to increase our capacity. Whereas there is no one piece of equipment that would allow us to get the work done we need to, like any lab, there are some we rely on more than others.

That led me to a hypothetical for today. If you lab was on a boat and boat was sinking, what would be the one piece of equipment you would save? For the purposes of this, assume that your fridges and freezers (or whatever you use to store samples) all float so your samples and reagents would be fine. Also, all your data are remotely backed-up (I mean, you're lab is on a boat, ffs), so you wouldn't lose all the data on a computer, for instance. Once on land, you'll need to get your work up and running as fast as possible (proposal deadlines don't wait for you to row back!), so you need the essential piece of equipment that will allow you to do the most while you wait for the insurance company to assess the damages. General consumables are available on land.

What single piece of lab equipment occupies the precious space in the lifeboat that would otherwise be filled by the summer student who you sent to "keep bailing the lab"?

30 responses so far

  • X-ray diffractometer! We crystallographers are pretty
    useless without it...

  • My qPCR machine. I can send everything else out on contract until I can replace it.

  • Sxydocma1 says:

    The fluorometer. If all samples are in the freezer, I can
    do experiments all day and all night until rescue.

  • odyssey says:

    The -80 freezer with all my clones. No point in saving something else if I don't have the proteins to work with. Of course I'd also do a Jameson and go back in after my beer fridge.

  • Heavy says:

    Illumina Sequencer, hands down.

  • Liz says:

    flow cytometer, without a doubt

  • Dr Becca says:

    The confocal microscope, without question. I'm pretty sure I could make some behavior apparati out of bamboo and palm leaves.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    If "the Professor" could make a radio, you could totally pull that off. Just keep Gilligan away from it.

  • Bashir says:

    Computers. I could just grab my bag that has my laptop and a few notebooks and be good to go.

  • Reyna says:

    Plate reader. Covers absorbance, fluorescence and luminescence assays .

  • Jen says:

    I am a developmental biologist and can't do anything without my 60x zoom stereomicroscope, so it will be saved above all else (I can go digging around for my model organism, if the freezers end up sinking). But if our epifluorescence microscope is more save-able, then that is another option, and I'd try to survive with the 4x objective.

  • Patchi says:

    I'm drowning because I can't figure out if I should save the autoclave to be able to make sterile media or the multi-well spectrophotometer to read the assays. Do you think the reviewers will accept my word that one well was significantly more yellow than the other?

  • HennaHonu says:

    This is hard. My lab has more of a question focus where we use lots of different methods to assess a group of questions. My qPCR machine, incubator, fluorometer, flow cytometer, inverted epifluorescence microscope... at my current stage in my graduate research I mostly need the qPCR machine, but a year ago it would have been the others.

  • Dr. O says:

    Well, if my strains are okay, then I need a way to grow them first and foremost. So the autoclave or the incubators. Although I can probably borrow those from someone else on land, so I'd go for the qPCR machine. Bonus - I think ours could double as a life raft.

  • brooksphd says:

    Mine would have been my ephys rig. But that might be cheating cos it was a multi-piece bit of kit 🙂

  • darchole says:

    Let it all sink. Half my work in on the computer which is
    remotely backed-up and half my work I could continue by macgyvering
    something up from items I could buy from the hardware store, there
    is nothing I need to save, which is actually pretty relieving if
    anything catastrophic happens here.

  • Anon2 says:

    We have a multi-mode plate reader that we couldn't live without. But your post got me thinking about a more likely scenario. If the lab was burning or the stupid new fire sprinklers they just installed went off for no reason, what would I save? Practically speaking, instruments are out because almost anything is too heavy for one person to grab and save (although I may be able to manage the above-mentioned plate reader by myself). But what about lab notebooks? Computers? textbooks? Obviously the backup hard drive is easy to grab. Current lab notebooks are more important than old lab notebooks, although older stuff that hasn't been published yet would be lost forever. Makes me wonder if I should arrange my old lab notebooks by "done-ness" (i.e. if all the work has been published or not) rather than alphabetically. Who has an actual emergency plan for the lab?

  • Namnezia says:

    Dude, I'd be fucked. Our electrophysiology rigs have so many different pieces of equipment that each of them is worthless without the other. I guess I'd save the microscope. It would keep me entertained while we wait to get rescued from the desert island.

  • Just as a note, you won't always be there to grab the backup hard-drive. Off-site backups are easy enough to set up and priceless.

  • JaneB says:

    Assuming all the samples are happy and my backup hard drive is safe, as in your question:
    my microscope. MY microscope, the original one I bought for the lab from my tiny start-up budget. I love my microscope! We'd have to have a round the clock rota but if everyone had Been Good and kept ahead on the lab work (which I always recommend as a lot of our equipment is tempremental - either by inclination or because it's elderly and needs a lot of maintainance work - so it's smart to keep everyone able to cope with a 1-2 week workflow break) we could keep churning out the data. MY microscope happens to also be one of the most robust (read - least sophisticated) ones we have, so it would have the best chance of surviving the life raft experience in a usable state.

    And when it wasn't our turn at the 'scope, we could probably do some great modelling (conceptual and mathematical) with some smoothed sand and pointy sticks, or by scratching on tropical leaves...

  • Confounding says:

    The advantage of being in a field largely based on population studies, math and statistics?

    "The backup drives"

    Or, if I can get the storage solution I'm working on done, "My computer".

    Could then relocate the lab to Starbucks, assuming that didn't sink.

  • Mokele says:

    Honestly - just about anything. My field uses such a wide array of instruments (high speed cameras, microscopes, servomotors, force sensors, electrophysiology rigs, cineflouroscopy) either singly or together that any single piece of equipment is enough to do experiments with, and any combination of 2 or more pieces can produce a lifetime of research.

    Hell, my first two papers were accomplished with nothing more than Home Depot supplies (PVC, wood, hinges, duct-tape, etc), a video camera, some software, and a few animals. I've got one I'm about to submit that I did entirely with a kiddie pool, a tripod, a sheet of acrylic, my digital camera and some software. I've got another planned that requires nothing more than some cheap plastic, a stopwatch, and a handful of animals.

    The great thing about organismal biomechanics is that you can have a minimally functional lab in 2 weeks for less than $2k that can do some cool projects. Setting up an entire state-of-the-art lab costs less than molecular folks spend on a single machine.

  • I do a lot of westerns but our shit is Bio-Rad and I'd rather it burn in a lake of fire and we get new. Some I'm going to say I'd rip the cell culture hood from the wall and take it with me.

  • Bushbaby says:

    S%@T!! Grab the microscope!! I guess I can hand-centrifuge the samples!

  • odyssey says:

    You can make a centrifuge with half a coconut and some vines. Tie the vines to the half coconut shell, put sample in shell, and swing vigorously in circle around your head.

  • odyssey says:

    Anyone know how to make a pipette out of bamboo? Most of us would be fucked without pipettes...

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Bamboo and grass. You have to be subtle and get new shoots.

  • I'd make sure my confocal microscope was the first thing to be pushed to the bottom of the ocean.

  • How many swallows does it take to make the coconut centrifuge run?

  • odyssey says:

    African or European?

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