4.27.2007

WORKING IN A LAB IS SOMETIMES NOT COOL

Working in a lab is generally always cool. I wear a lab coat. I make my own hours. I can toast my sandwich bread over a Bunsen burner. I can formulate various chemical substances for sheer entertainment value. I have 24/7 access to fun items including but not limited to: a microscope with built-in digital camera, a ceramic high-heat oven, a spectrometer, and a dessicator. I wear safety goggles and rubber aprons. I wash things in acid. Most days, my job is a good job.

However, working in a lab is sometimes not cool.

I was rooting around in the lab refrigerator (which being the only refrigerator, serves dual purpose as the Refrigerator of Food and Science) for some carrot sticks, which I remembered seeing the other day hiding behind some mud samples in a plastic grocery bag. I located the bag and removed it from the fridge, noting that the bag's contents were assorted vegetables (including carrot sticks) and some random stuff sitting underneath the veggies that, being occupied with the idea of getting carrot sticks, I didn't look too closely at. The bag felt undulatory, like the bottom was full of liquid. As I went to grab the carrot sticks, the bag made a flatulent noise and discharged what appeared to be a semi-clear liquid, which promptly hit my pants and dribbled down my leg to pool inside my shoe.

It smelled absolutely unholy. Satan himself was moistening the interior of my shoe. I quickly tossed the bag in the garbage and began trying to towel the evil off me. The moistness was gone but the smell remained. Not only that, the smell was also emanating from the fridge and the floor around the fridge. My lab-mates Alison and Kevin began trying to deduce what could have produced such a smell, the guesses ranging from "old meat" to "mushrooms gone bad." Alison retrieved the bag from the garbage and riffled through it, eventually pulling out a Ziploc with something squarish and nearly unidentifiable sitting within, dribbling the Satan-juice out of a corner.

"I think it's cheese," she said. "Or rather, was cheese at some point."

We then pondered when the Refrigerator of Food and Science had last been cleaned out. In its entirety, probably never. There may be food in there from before Christmas. Things may have achieved sentience, or at least rudimentary zoological functions. The thought was sobering.

We tossed the bag and closed the refrigerator door. A few minutes went by.

"The smell isn't going away. Someone has to clean this." I said.

I had made the Fatal Error of Non-Denial: if you mention an unpleasant task that needs to be done, nine times out of ten you will be the one to do it. Alison and Kevin, firmly steeped in denial of the awful smell, smiled.

So today I suited up in lab coat, rubber boots, apron, and gloves and cleaned the Refrigerator of Food and Science. A large patch of Satan had percolated down to dry and congeal on the lowest shelf of the fridge, so I removed everything from all the shelves and scrubbed the interior with antibacterial soap. I then wiped down all the contents and checked the expiration dates on anything edible. Out of the 7 or so food items I found with dates, 5 had exceeded their expiration by well over a month, or in the case of the half and half creamer (gross), nearly three months (gross!). There was a baggie of something that looked like poop, which this fridge being used for samples as well as food, may actually be poop. I kept it since it was in a baggie and a date was written on it. Three bottles of Great Lakes beer were also deemed safe and survived the purge.

The shelves were clean but the smell inexplicably remained. I had an idea and removed the drawers from the very bottom of the fridge. There, quietly minding its own business under the drawers, was what appeared to be a live culture of an astonishingly pink-hued bacterium. Ordinarily I'd have taken a sample, but scientific curiosity lost and I mercilessly attacked it with a scrubber sponge full of lemon-fresh vitriol. I may have destroyed an unknown species in the process but the smell was finally gone.

I told my friend Vinnie the story of the juice in my shoe and his reaction was "god, that's disgusting." This from a guy whose previous job was in sewage.

Oh and that thing we thought was cheese? We found out today it was salmon.

5 comments:

Justin said...

c,
What standards were you using that allowed not one, but three bottles of Great Lakes Beer to survive the purge?
j

Justin said...

c,
What standards were you using that allowed not one, but three bottles of Great Lakes Beer to survive the purge?
j

Christina said...

1. The bottles were unopened.

2. They were not covered by the Satan-juice.

3. Save the beer at all costs.

Marisa said...

Man, I miss academia. I can't even chew gum at work, but you guys can keep food (and beer) in your lab fridge?

Christina said...

The beer is our advisor's beer, so I guess it's legal. The admins here don't like the idea of our lab having food and drink in it, since there's not supposed to be food or drink in ANY lab. However, the fridge is in a separate room of the lab and we got the room designated a "food room" since it has a door and technically doesn't have to be considered part of "the lab."

Needless to say, our lab is very popular with the other grad and PhD students.