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Lab Rats

Chair invasion

How even lab furniture can make your day

Amy Unsworth 5 November 2006

Chair up, love: it might never happen

We must fight to hold on to these precious moments, however inappropriate and juvenile

I always think that doing scientific research is a bit of a manic-depressive occupation. The highs are breathtakingly high, while the lows plunge you into the depths of despair. Unfortunately, the ratio of highs to lows usually weighs heavily in favour of lows. Consequently, for sanity’s sake, we scientists need to look for our highs in places other than our experiments.

In our lab, those highs may come from small, unexpected events. For example, last week’s fix came via the arrival of new chairs. Styled in that particular shade of bland institutional blue with a health-and-safety approved fire resistant coating, they weren’t that much to look at. But we all fell upon them with cries of delight, liberating them from their plastic wrapping with a fervour rivalled only by a child on Christmas morning.

Our lab is certainly not generously proportioned, and fitting in all the old chairs was a bit of a squeeze. But when they were joined by their newer, shinier companions, chaos ensued. To navigate across the lab, an aptitude for hurdling became an essential attribute. The chaos was further compounded when we discovered that a) there weren’t enough new chairs for everyone and b) the new chairs were not identical; some models were more desirable than others. How were we ever going to resolve such problems?

We discussed the issues in probably too loud and animated voices, until the arrival of our boss. He looked rather comical wading through the dense forest of blue chairs, but he did not find the matter remotely amusing.

“What’s going on? You’re all behaving like children!” – an accusation that was not entirely unfounded.

With a frightening efficiency fuelled by exasperation, he rapidly distributed the chairs to their rightful owners. We sat on them quietly and obediently, all traces of our recent joy obliterated.

This illustrates that in real life, just as in research, moments of sublime happiness can be all too easily snatched away. But we must resist; we must fight to hold on to these precious moments, however inappropriate and juvenile.

Because in our line of work, who knows where the next fix will come from?

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