The One Where I Almost Murdered an Appliance
Saturday night, 6:45 PM.
I’ve spent the last three days working long shifts to run the most finicky and superstition-causing of all experiments: the dreaded Western blot. I’m tired, and alone.
On the plus side, I’ve been spending my days in a gorgeous, well-appointed 13th floor laboratory on Portland’s South Waterfront, with a stunning view and friendly, knowledgeable scientists who have been delightful. My friend and fellow grad student Cat met me for brunch this morning while my blot incubated for round one, and then came to cowork with me in between experimental timepoints. She left around 5:30, and then…it was just me. Alone. In a giant open bay lab with automatic lights.
If you’ve never been in a megalab space, imagine one long room, running all the way down the side of an office building. Put about a dozen long tables with cabinets in, and share them out amongst 6-10 labs. It’s visually broken up, but it’s one room. The lights are only on in the parts of the lab that have active movement in them, and when you’re working on a paper in between long time points, the lights have a tendency to go off frequently.
About 6:30, the lights flicked off. I got up to do the hokey-pokey and turn them back on, when a high pitched beeping startled me in the dark. I tried to find out where it was coming from. Not my bay. Not the one next to us, either. It was coming from all the way down…where it was really dark. No one had been down there all day.
I decided to ignore it.
It got louder. Insistent. Started to drum hot spiky notes into my brain.
I knew that if it were one of the deep freezers, and no one checked on it and things got ruined, I would feel awful, but was it worth running the risk that something dangerous was down there? What if I wasn’t alone and I got murdered or I fell down and died and I’d never make it home and then WHO WOULD TALK ABOUT PLACENTAS? WHO?
So I picked up a 5mL pipette. They’re long, plastic, pointed things, and I’d just used it on blocking buffer so I was like, “YEAH, get some MILK in your EYE if you try to jump me,” and with it firmly in my first, I stalked down to the other end of the room, checking my 6 every 5 steps as though this were Call of Duty and not “Late Night Science Imagination Theater.” The beeping seemed to be coming from pretty far down…just past the last set of light sensors.
Like a terrified Muppet, I ran at the source of the sound, waving my hands and my improvised stake in the air, trying to trigger any light source available. One finally clicked on, right in front of the source of the beeping: a -80 degree C freezer, with a note taped to the front.
“Ignore the beeping. We’re aware of the problem.”
I have saved us all from great danger.