Typical Day in the Lab

Heat for seven days and after the seventh day, rest–or cool to room temperature, however you want to think of it. Who would have thought throwing together atomic material and heating the bejesus out of it (anything over 900 °C qualifies as bejesus) would make something useful. Those organic chemists have it wrong, heating to a measly 60 °C and spending hours working up some messy liquid. My way’s all solids, baby. Heat that sucker up, crack the tube, and reap the rewards.

So when I walked into lab this morning, head held high and ready for results, I was feeling pretty good. My crystals should be ready, and the sealed quartz tube holding them should be cool enough to touch. I’d proudly carry my work down to the glassblower’s room–in the basement; poor guy, never seen a window–and let him slice open the tube he had so carefully crafted the previous week. I wonder how he felt, always having to break his masterpieces. But no time to worry about him, I need those crystals!

The tube furnace is flashing green, telling me it’s done with its work, and I congratulate it by flipping the switch that lets it sleep. That thing sucks so much power that it can’t be plugged into any old wall outlet, it has to be hooked directly into the system–best only to keep it on when necessary. I twist the knob that opens the valve that opens the system to air. A loud hiss escapes, followed by thin tendrils of purple smoke. Smoke’s no good; all of my crystals should be solid by now. Holding my breath and clearing the air with one hand, I slide out the holding tray with the other. The tube is there, as it should be, but it’s in two pieces, as it shouldn’t. The heat worked its way into a crack so small that even the glassblower with his Steampunk magnifying glasses didn’t detect it. The smoke was my material floating away. Eight days of anticipation sucked into the ventilation system, leaving purple stains on the pipes.

I stood for a moment staring at the tube. No explosions, no shattering, just a little clink as the tip of the tube landed on the metal tray. In my daze, I forgot the lab until a gloved hand landed on my shoulder. My own hands balled to fists, and my head whipped around in surprise–I’m more of a fight than a flight kind of guy–until I saw the face of my boss. My outside relaxed, but my inside tensed. I knew it was coming. She grinned, reminding me of my cat with her favorite toy mouse, and asked, “So, do you have any results?”

2 thoughts on “Typical Day in the Lab

  1. Pingback: Typical Day in the Lab | Science Communication Blog Network

  2. Pingback: The Week In Science (Mar 18 – 24) | Science Communication Blog Network

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