Lab Cleanup Day

If you are a devotee of CSI or its less attractive siblings, you probably have a skewed view of laboratories. The CSI laboratory is a wonderous place. A mixture of beautiful whites and blues paint scenes of an organized and sterile environment. Sexy people roam this shangri-la using their Bruckheimer-granted skills to do in 15 seconds what takes mere mortals hours or days (no, you can’t get a DNA match from a piece of evidence in under a minute). At the risk of ruining any mystique the show may have given me and my brethren, the show is a lie…albeit an entertaining one. The real-life lab is a dirty and cluttered place, more of a graveyard for old data and outdated technology than anything else. But sometimes a group of scientists with the right mix of daring and foolishness will attempt to impose order on the chaos.

The last attempt at a Lab Cleanup Day in our lab was likely prior to 1997. Either that or in the past decade nobody saw the need to remove a list of lab rules dating to that year and referencing individuals nobody currently in the lab has ever heard of. Either way it was clear going in that it wasn’t going to be a particularly easy or enjoyable afternoon. I signed up to help with the “Corner of Mystery”, which was an area near the chemical hood that people had been using for storing anything and everything they couldn’t be bothered to find a real place for. During the excavation, I pulled out a confusing array of junk:

1) A PC tower with an Intel Pentium II processor and a Power Macintosh G3, both of which Wikipedia assures me were discontinued early in 1999.

2) Carbon dioxide tanks that were still partially full and just left in an alcove. Yes, those are the same kind of pressurized tanks that can fall, crack open, and then be propelled violently around by the gas escaping the cylinder.

3) A huge blue, hexagonal contraption that was outfitted with multiple hoses coming out the sides. Underneath a pile of stuff stacked on top of it was a faded note saying not to store things on top of it. Not being exactly sure what it was but knowing it hadn’t been used in quite some time, we just hid it in the radiation area.

4) Mouse skin samples…maybe. The absence of any definitive labels left the true identity of the samples a mystery but it looked like there might have been fur on some of them. We threw them on top of the blue thing in the radiation area along with some other samples we thought were too toxic to deal with.

So for anyone who’s looking for an old PC or Mac from the late 90’s…I’d love to help you but you’ll have to look elsewhere. My boss had us keep them. You know, just in case.

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