Field of Science

How to (almost) damage expensive equipment

Around a week ago, a couple of men came into the lab and installed a new plate reader. This is a nifty little device that can measure the both the optical density and the fluorescence of a sample over long periods of time, essentially saving you from having to take little mini-samples out and measuring them every half-hour. It's about the size of a large printer and you put the samples into little plastic wells about half a centimeter wide and a centimeter deep then load them all up and let the machine take the readings for you.

One of the things we're working on at the moment is pigments, which we want to characterise by measuring the fluorescent spectra they give off. Very easy in a plate reader. Characterising one of them yesterday, we took the cell-samples, lysed the cells, extracted the pigment with acetone and then loaded them into the wells for the plate reader.

Luckily, someone left the wells out on the bench for a while before loading them. Because when we came to load them we immediately noticed one vital and unforgotten fact...

Acetone melts plastic.

The acetone from the extraction had melted right through the bottom of the wells. If that had been in the machine the sample would have dripped through onto the lens, which is apparently *very* expensive, and put the whole machine out of commission.


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