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Selected Excerpts from the Lab Notebook of Jane Baxman

Episode Six of Blnded By Science

Harrison Bae Wein 18 June 2006

Harrison Bae Wein: some of his best friends are technicians

Editor’s note: This is the sixth episode in a series of nine original stories, each written in a different style, following the career of a scientist called Fluke from graduate school to Nobel Prize. If you are curious about any technical words, yyou can browse Harrison's glossary, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the story.

August 2, 1993

First day working for legendary Fluke at Braggadocio University. Everyone very nice. Seems more laid back and friendly here than at X-Gene. Jean, my career advisor, called to congratulate me. She did a great job writing my resume. Called Bill from X-Gene after lunch to tell him how it was going. Had a great conversation – was on the phone for over four hours. I had the feeling that other people in the lab wanted to use the phone, but no one said anything to me, so I guess it was O.K. Anyway, Bill said no one else has been laid off yet, and it's been months since I left. What a bureaucracy. This is how they save money – taking months to downsize past one person? Glad I left when I did. Still, can't believe I was the very first to get the ax. How unlucky can you get?

August 3, 1993

Went down to get keys. Started filling out extensive forms for keys, but due to arm discomfort, had to make emergency trip to health center. Got massage. Came back, went out to lunch before finishing forms. They require a great deal of personal information. Asked the administrative officer why we had to go through such a rigmarole, but she brushed me off. I don't tolerate such disrespect, and I told her so. I mark it here for the record, in case I have to build a case against her. When I handed the form in, I told the administrative officer the boxes were too small and caused eyestrain. She didn't make a note of it. Must tell Fluke about this impertinence.

August 4, 1993

This afternoon, was arranging desk when I realized how sleepy I was. They have coffee in lab, but it's not the good kind, so I had to go out to find some. Went exploring for a good coffee shop and walked around for two hours before I found a decent cup of coffee. I must have thrown out ten cups of coffee, they were so bad – and this around a University! Now I have a good place to get a cup of coffee: Café Pacific. Directions mapped below. Must talk to Fluke about reimbursement. So much to do....

August 5, 1993

Went to stock room to get supplies, spent whole day testing out different arrangements of desk. Still not right.

August 6, 1993

Bruce's lab meeting this morning lasted almost two hours. It completely wiped me out. Needed energy boost, so went out to buy power drink. Didn't help. Will go home a little early. It's been a rough first week.

August 9, 1993

Jack started to teach me how to dissect the root tips. Detailed diagram below. Also showed me how to work the microscope, but I had to stop due to poor chair position. Fluke said I could order a fully adjustable chair for the scope. Got catalog from downstairs and started to look for good chair.Note: feeling lethargic. It's definitely affecting my work performance. Tomorrow morning, will go check out gym facilities on campus.

August 10, 1993

Went to campus gym this morning and investigated every aspect of facility. Shower stalls too small, women's locker room not carpeted, too many students using machines. This afternoon, went to YMCA downtown – much better. More machines, and in the stalls in the bathroom, they even have those latches that go in a circle and then rotate down into the holder, not the slidey kind that always break (diagrammed below). Joined YMCA. Came back, put in reimbursement request for "miscellaneous services." Glad Fluke gave me discretionary spending power. Most people don't appreciate how important fitness is for proper performance in the lab.

August 11, 1993

Tried to get the feel today of the dissections. However, due to improper chair position, had to stop. Just can't do any work until my chair is comfortable. Went out to find cushion for lumbar support.

August 16, 1993

Fluke told me I had to fill the water carboys for lab. I told him no way. I'm a technician. My job is to do research, not to get water for everyone else in the lab. He backed down pretty quickly when he thought about it. He knows I'm right. The whole exchange got me really upset, though, and I couldn't concentrate for the rest of the day. Fluke has only himself to blame for this loss of my productivity.

August 18, 1993

Tried root dissections. Think I'm getting the hang of it, but couldn't look at my cells under scope due to poor chair position and eye fatigue.

August 20, 1993

Announced at lab meeting that I will not tolerate sharing pipetmen with Jack. This is totally inefficient. I need my own set. Fluke agreed to buy me one. If he wants a smooth-running lab, he'd better.

August 23, 1993

New chair for scope finally arrived. Spent day putting it together and optimizing its position for my body size. Unfortunately, since it is so easily adjustable, I am worried about what others might do to my settings. Made sign and put on chair to prevent such an occurrence.

September 17, 1993

Gave lab meeting today. Covered every article I've read in detail. Think everyone was very impressed, from the looks on their faces, at all the research I've done in only six weeks. Exhausted now. Glad it's the weekend.

September 20, 1993

Glad I had the weekend to recover from giving that lab meeting. Still tired from it, but marched on nonetheless. Made Buffer 1 today (recipe attached).

September 21, 1993

Made Buffer 2 (recipe attached).

September 22, 1993

Made Buffer 3 (recipe attached).

September 23, 1993

Made Buffer 4 (recipe attached).

September 24, 1993

Monique gave lab meeting today. Afterward, started to arrange bottles on my shelf. Inhibited by dry skin. Went out to buy moisturizing lotion. Tested many different kinds until I found odorless, hypoallergenic lotion with sufficient moisturization properties and low grease factor. Must get reimbursement form on Monday.

September 27, 1993

Bruce showed me the Internet. The opportunities for research and for interacting with other scientists are endless!

September 29, 1993

Have found some of the most amazing web sites! There's one experimental site where you can externally control a robot and shift around the sand in a sandbox. Everyone who logs on can shift the sand. It's fascinating to see what patterns can be formed. This is a really innovative sociological experiment. The professor who set it up explained to me (over e-mail) that nothing like this has ever been done before. I'm anxious to see the results of his important research.

October 1, 1993

Got lost in cyberspace. Spent all night on the computer trying to find where I was and never went home. Fluke and Monique came into lab at about eight and observed that I came in early. I told them that I hadn't come in early – I'd never gone home from yesterday. Fluke told me not to work so hard. They are very impressed by my dedication. I'm glad I've found a place where they really appreciate what I do. They told me to go home early, so that's what I'm going to do.

October 12, 1993

Started to count my cells from yesterday's dissection, but could not continue due to poor chair position! Someone disregarded my sign not to tamper with my adjustments and I have not been able to get it right again. I can't believe people would be so callous as to disregard all the extensive adjustments I performed. You can be sure I'll bring this up at next lab meeting.

November 2, 1993

Went to check e-mail, but Bruce is always at the computer doing this time-intensive number crunching which he can realistically do at any time! Either Bruce needs to be more flexible toward other people's needs in lab, or we need a new computer (preferably two new computers). Must bring this up at lab meeting.

November 5, 1993

Fluke agreed to fund a new computer, but he told me to order it myself. I told him that it wasn't my job to buy computers for him. He frowned at me. I can't believe this arrogant attitude he has. What does he think I am, his secretary? I absolutely refused. I did advise him to get a top of the line computer, though. No use buying something that's going to be out of date in a couple of years. I think he agreed with me on that.

November 30, 1993

Bruce set up the new computer last week. I am very frustrated with him. I told him I needed to learn about the new features of this computer as soon as he got it up and running so I can start taking advantage of them, but he still hasn't made time for me. I must talk to Fluke about this disrespectful attitude of his.

December 2, 1993

Bruce taught me how to use new computer, at Fluke's request. Bruce seemed exasperated with me, as if he didn't want to spend his time teaching me. While I was simply trying to check and make sure I understood everything, Bruce kept advising me to read the manual. I told him it was easier if he taught me, and I put my foot down and kept him there and made him teach me everything. I've been getting more and more of this slacker attitude from both Bruce and Jack. They are both just lazy. It's for their own benefit that I as a technician understand how everything works in this lab, yet I still have to argue with them just to teach me the most basic things. If I weren't here to hold things together, I don't know what they would do in this lab. Don't they realize this? I must bring this up at lab meeting.

December 3, 1993

People were much nicer to me after I set them straight at lab meeting this morning. Guess I shamed them into good behavior. In any case, the crisis has been resolved.

March 23, 1994

The plants finally seem to be getting better! This winter has been a nightmare. None of the material has been good enough for dissections. Fluke was irritated with me for a while, but I told him I wasn't going to work with inferior material. Meanwhile, I told him, I was making good use of my time reading journal articles. He finally backed off. Now, though, it doesn't matter. I can finally get back to the bench.

May 27, 1994

Fluke wants me to give a poster at the plant meeting in November. I told him I don't know if the procedure will be perfected by then. He said he has faith in me and wants me to give a poster on what I have. I guess I'll have to go into my turbo mode.

July 22, 1994

The procedure has been completed! It follows:

1. Take out petri dish.2. Get plant.3. Place root in petri dish.4. Dispense 2 ml Buffer 1 into petri dish.5. Dissect root tip in petri dish as shown below.6. Take out microfuge tube.7. Open microfuge tube, if necessary.8. Place root tip in microfuge tube.9. Dispense 100 ml of solution 1 into tube.10. Close tube.11. Invert tube with tip, shake gently. Tap if it doesn't settle back into liquid.12. Open microfuge tube13. Add enzymes, as detailed on page 7b of procedure.14, Repeat steps 10, 11.15. Leave at room temperature overnight.16. The next morning, take out a slide and a coverslip (sizes detailed in section 4, Materials, page 6d.)17. Open microfuge tube.18. Cut off tip of yellow tip.19. Pipet out 30 ml cells to slide using cut yellow tip.20. Place coverslip over sample (procedure detailed on page 9a).21. Count cells (procedure is in microscope section 11d, after tips for cutting down glare on the oculars from room lights).

August 5, 1994

Gave lab meeting. Everyone was impressed at what I'd accomplished. Fluke spoke to me afterward and said that he wants me to work out a protein extraction procedure. Well, back to work. As soon as you get one thing done, you've got to start another.... That's always how it is: the better you are, the more they ask of you.

October 19, 1994

Two weeks until the plant meeting. Fluke told me I'd better start getting my poster together. He told me to take pictures. I told him I didn't know how, so he showed me. I've never seen anything so ridiculous: they roll their own film when you can buy a perfectly good roll at the camera store (it's right by the gym, so I can pick it up any day). I told him I refused to roll my own film, but we continued with the one he rolled anyway. Procedure detailed in Procedural section, notebook five, 36d.

October 27, 1994

Finished taking all my pictures, but Fluke tells me today that I'm supposed to develop the film and print it myself! I told him no way. I'm way to busy. I'm a technician, not a photography expert. Let the experts do what they do, and I'll do what I do. I went to the photo shop on the way to the gym and dropped the film off.

October 31, 1994

In a panic. Two days until the meeting and I've never worked so hard in my life. Have a rough draft of both the introduction and conclusion. Procedure is pretty much worked out. Fluke doesn't like the pictures, but I think they're good enough. I'll tell you one thing: I'm not doing them over; he can do it if he wants to. Anyway, went out to buy posterboard, and spent two hours trying to pick the right color to best enhance my pictures yet at the same time limit eye strain. It's amazing how complicated such choices can be. As detailed in section 321, p.147, most of the colors were too bright and strained my eyes. Really dark ones brought out the contrast of the white paper too much and were therefore too jarring. Settled for maroon.

November 1, 1994

One of the roughest days of my scientific career. I was at the helm while Fluke proofread and modified my text, Bruce did the computer work for me making my titles and diagrams, and Monique glued and stuck my figures to the posterboard. It's been a long, hard day. I hope Fluke appreciates how hard I work for him.

November 4, 1994

Spent three straight hours at my poster today! I'm exhausted. I didn't even have a good chair to sit in and had to sit in one of those cheap metal folding chairs. Had a lot of interesting conversations, though, and got several great ideas on how to proceed with the protein extraction. Details of all my conversations in Meeting Report Notebook 3, pages 1- 167.

November 21, 1994

I was so exhausted after the plant meeting that it took me all this time to recover. Today was my first day back in lab, and I'm still a little sluggish, but at least I can think again. Went to the gym this afternoon, and was able to do ten minutes on the stair stepper, so I can tell I'm beginning to recover.

March 22, 1995

The plants did terribly again this winter, but at least it gave me time to plan this procedure out properly.

April 5, 1995

The procedure is getting very complicated. Think I will have to start organizing my lab notebooks in a different way. They are already filling an entire shelf!

April 17, 1995 Have gone around and looked at many different notebooks, both in our lab and in others around campus. None of them is satisfactory. I will pioneer a new way of organizing a laboratory notebook.

May 23, 1995

The organization of my laboratory notebook is complete. Details in section 1a, page 1!

July 14, 1995

Procedure is finalized – finally. Don't think I could have done it without my new, innovative way of organizing my lab notebook. General outline:

1. Take out petri dish.2. Get plant.3. Place root in petri dish.4. Dispense 2 ml Buffer 1 into petri dish.5. Dissect root tip in petri dish (diagrammed in section 3f of procedure).6. Take out microfuge tube.7. Open microfuge tube, if necessary.8. Place root tip in microfuge tube.9. Dispense 100 ml of solution 4 into tube.10. Close tube.11. Invert tube with tip, shake gently. Tap if it doesn't settle back into liquid.12. Open microfuge tube13. Add enzymes, as detailed in section 12g of procedure.14. Repeat steps 10, 11.15. Leave at room temperature overnight.16. Weigh microfuge tube (section 14d).17. Make balance of same weight (section 14h).18. Spin (section 16a).19. Use yellow tip (do not cut off tip!). Remove supernatant (detailed in Procedures notebook 17, page 18).20. Add 5x sample buffer (calculations, 21d).21. Run gel (Procedures notebook 29, pages 54-167).

August 24, 1995

Tried Western Blot again to search for proteins Fluke is interested in. Proteins didn't transfer again. I think the Western blot apparatus isn't working, even though Jack said it's been working for him. Maybe he just has more protein than I do.

August 25, 1995

Took electrodes for Western blot apparatus apart. Not sure if the wire is actually supposed to be touching the metal electrode thing, so separated them and held them apart with electrical tape. It didn't help. On the plus side, though, Jack finally agrees with me that the apparatus isn't working!

August 31, 1995

The Western blot still won't work. I don't know what's going on. Went to gym for stress relief.

September 11, 1995

Jack bought new electrodes, but the Western blot apparatus still doesn't work for me. He says I must have bad karma, but I got my tea leaves read just last week, and he's obviously completely wrong.

October 12, 1995

Figured it out! It was a long and complicated technical process, but I figured out that if I put my gel on top of the nitrocellulose paper rather than the other way around, the proteins transfer fine (detailed in Procedures notebook 74, page 32). What a finicky machine! Why does it matter which way you do it? Modern technology! It's just like the computer. You can click the "cut" icon all you want, but it never seems to cut the text you want it to. I mean, shouldn't there be a way to tell it what text you want cut? Just like this Western blot. You should be able to tell it which way the protein goes!

October 19, 1995

Fluke tells me I should start getting my poster ready for the next plant meeting. It was so hard last year, I don't know if I can bring myself to do it again. But I realize I have to. My work is very important, and it is crucial that this information be disseminated to the general science community. So I have to start taking pictures soon. I'm not sure how to take pictures of gels. I'll have to ask someone to show me. Better yet, I can get Fluke to do it for me. After all, it's his lab. If he wants this information presented in a proper fashion, he should at least do his part in its production.

Anyway, the chairs at the last meeting were so uncomfortable, I've decided to bring my own this time. I'm going to call the airline tomorrow to ask them how I can check a chair along with my suitcases...

Teasers for subsequent episodes of Blinded by Science:

The A-Maize-ing Maize Man: A Tale From The Corny Side. Jack, a sloppy postdoc in Fluke's lab, spills some chemicals on himself that cause corn kernels to sprout all over his body. A nasty human tomato is willing to go to any lengths to discover the secret to Jack's transformation. It's a good thing that two FBI agents specializing in the paranormal are on the scene.

The Coli. A magazine reporter finds the story of a lifetime when he learns that a postdoc in Fluke's lab has invented a prototype teleportation device. But a horrible accident ensues when the postdoc forgets to sterilize the chamber.

Back to the Past. What's Fluke doing drunk and passed out in the back room of a pub? Finally, learn the real secret to Fluke's success.