What do you think a science research lab looks like?
Full of people in long white coats? Lots of really expensive equipment? Shelves scattered with powders and liquids of various colours?
Well, you’re right! But if you took a peek behind some of the lab doors you would probably find some things that you REALLY would not expect to see on a lab bench. So, continuing from my ‘Everyday essentials’ post, I thought I’d give you that sneaky peek behind the lab doors and a different insight into lab life by showing you some of the unexpected!!
1) Milk Powder.
Easily found on the shelves of your local supermarket, dried milk powder is a regular on many lab benches. But what use could a scientist possibly have for milk in the lab I hear you say? If you cast your minds back to my A day in the life of a PhD student. Chapter 1. blog post, I introduced you to a technique I use nearly everyday called Western blotting, where we use antibodies to detect the amount of our protein of interest in our samples. But there is a major issue with antibodies, which is that they can be very ‘sticky’! Antibodies generally bind very specifically to whatever protein they are meant to, however, sometimes they bind unspecifically to places and proteins that they shouldn’t. This is where our milk comes in. As part of the Western blot method, we need to block our membranes – which basically means we are covering up all the ‘sticky’ places which we don’t want our antibody to bind to, and this is the job our milk does.
(Obviously, other brands are available in addition to the one pictured above :P)
2) Aluminium Foil.
Probably something that would look more at home in a kitchen than on a lab bench, but probably one of the less surprising things you will see on this list of the unexpected! There are a few reagents in the lab that are light-sensitive, and if not kept in the dark, will go off and not work, and then you’re back to square one with that experiment! This is something that the aluminium foil does brilliantly; keeping the light out! A simple, but necessary job!
The microwave in our lab is not something that is used very often, but sometimes is the only way to solve a particular problem. When making certain solutions in the lab, no matter how long you try and dissolve that powder into that liquid, it will NOT go! The answer – heat it up! A few quick blasts of 30 seconds in the microwave and the powder will soon dissolve!
4) Cling Film.
Continuing along the ‘Things more commonly found in a kitchen’ theme, cling film provides another simple but necessary task! There are a few things in the lab that cannot be allowed to dry out otherwise they simply won’t work properly, like the gels I use in Western blotting. Wrapping them in damp tissue and wrapping it all in cling film keeps the moisture in! Alternatively, it can help keep the moisture out too! Sometimes I need to store membranes in the freezer, but all moisture needs to be kept out! The solution is wrapping it in cling film for protection.
5) Nail varnish.
This is probably the one you would be most shocked by on this list. Am I right? It’s not for lab ‘Manicure Mondays’ for us to have beautifully painted nails all week, but helps when we are staining cells with antibodies in immunocytochemistry to take images as seen here and here. The cells we stain are stuck onto a microscope slide, but before we can put them on a microscope we need to cover them with a wafer thin glass cover slip. This is done by simply laying this piece of glass over the cells on the microscope slide, making sure not to trap any air bubbles. Our nail varnish is the seal to stick the cover slip to the slide!
Some of these unexpected items seen our lab, you would probably not find them in all labs, but I just wanted to show that it is not just complex and expensive equipment in the lab, there are some things you would recognise – even if it is things that do the most basic of tasks.
Is there something in your lab that someone would not expect to find in there? Let me know in the comments below.