… it’s lab fail-time again! No, I’m not talking about the epic lab fail that just happened to you before you sat down and started reading this article. No worries. After all, I don’t possess clairvoyant abilities. I’m talking about all the lab fails that happen on a daily basis in laboratories all over the world. Thus, there’s plenty of material for us to read and learn from. Life as a lab beginner is hard, but let me tell you one thing: even in a more advanced status, fails only get more expensive – they never completely disappear. The following lab fails happened to fellow students and colleagues. Please read, laugh, and learn from them! Because their pain could be your gain.
A deep breath
“I was working in the lab while suffering from a nasty flu. My airways were swollen and I just couldn’t breathe properly. I had forgotten my nasal spray at home and was furious about not being able to breathe through my nose. Thus, I went to the bench where we keep our pH-meter, opened the bottle carrying the 30% HCl-solution for titrating, and took a deep breath. Please, don’t try that yourself! It was terrible. I clearly underestimated the power of hydrochloric acid. Luckily, nothing really bad happened (most likely because I was wearing my lab coat…) and my nose was indeed free afterwards. Still, I couldn’t smell anything for at least two days.”
“I use hypotonic buffers to solubilise cells because my protein of interest needs its membrane surrounding to remain active. To support cell lysis, I normally sonicate the cell homogenate, which I know does not alter my protein’s behaviour. I hadn’t worked with detergents in a long time, so I – more or less – followed my routine steps for cell lysis when I once had to lyse cell material in a buffer that contained detergent. Having too much routine can be a bad thing: As soon as I put my sample into the sonicating water bath, a nightclub-worthy foam party began. Silly me. Of course, I had to dump my samples and start all over again. Since then, I like to save foam parties for the weekends”
Don’t try this at ho… in the lab
“I was in the first semester of my Bachelor studies and took part in a practical course in general chemistry. When the course was almost done for the day, there was some liquid left in the beaker at my place. (I don’t really remember what kind of experiment we did on that day – it was probably a titration, as always in general chemistry.) On that particular day, I had asked the assistant supervisor a lot of stupid question. Thus, I decided that it was time to stop asking and start make decisions myself. I talked to my lab partner to decide what we should do with the remaining liquid in the beaker. Of note, my lab partner had already studied two semesters of chemistry before, which is why I thought that she was very trustworthy. We then decided – more or less together – to discard the liquid into the normal drain at our place. So I poured the complete stuff (round about 200 ml) into the drain when – suddenly – it started to smoke. I used my hands to fan the smoke away and – luckily – nobody noticed this accident. Since my work was done, I went home.”
So, what did we learn from this edition of our lab fails-series?
- Don’t put everything you find into your nose – listen to what Grandma says!
- Foam parties are only fun on Mallorca.
- Not all smoke signals are intended to be seen.
If you have more lab fails to share, please don’t hesitate to (anonymously) post them in the comments section below!
To be continued…