Rants about scientific equipment

So you are doing science, and all; your mind and your hands are working in unison to solve the world’s most tantalizing puzzles, to unlock nature’s secrets, and cure cancer, and sh@t.

What is the single most annoying thing you encounter in the lab? (Apart from the grant system, the low pay, and no career prospects.)

I’ll tell you what it is for me. It’s the stupid design of most of the equipment we’re forced to use. Apparently they are designed to be difficult to turn on.

It’s simple, really. You have something that costs thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, perhaps even a hundred thousand dollars. And almost all share one feature: the on/off switch is hidden in the back where the power supply is. Imagine buying a supercar (because you COULD buy one for the price of these things), only to have the ignition under the passenger seat’s rubber mat.

So there you are, awkwardly trying to feel up a stupid gray/black box from the back with your gloves on, trying to find one little switch. (One plate reader has a laptop-type power supply, and has two power switches -one on the power supply, and one on the machine itself-, which is kind of stupid even to the standards of these companies.) These things, as we discussed, cost ENORMOUS amounts of money. They have other switches, dials and knobs on the front. Why is it so hard to put the freaking power switch on the front among all the other stuff you need to push/turn? I’ll tell you why. These companies want to make your life in the lab even more hellish than it already is.

A couple of examples.

Brand new PCR machine, touch screen, and all that jazz. Guess where the power switch is?

Guess where the switch is

Yes, it’s on the back.

This bioanalyzer literally takes up a whole bench. Kind of hard to turn it on, though. I think a pretty machine like this would deserve a gigantic power switch.

The machine in question is abot the size of a check-in luggage. Good luck feeling the switch

And the proof that it’s not impossible to design machines rationally… (although I have to say the switch does blend into the black band, but they still get a pat on the back.)

This is how it's done. A BFS

Another frustrating thing: labels on chemicals. Most companies put their logo as the largest item, then “analytical reagent” as the second largest text, and then come the contents with tiny-winy letters. You should be able to find whatever you want by a quick look at the reagent shelf where all the chemicals are stored in alphabetical order. Instead you look up, see a row of “analytical reagent” and think “why isn’t everything are under “a”? This is seriously annoying. I mean WTF… I don’t want to know who made my NaOH when I need it. I want to be able to identify it with a glance.

This kit is one of the worst offenders… the identity of the contents is literally the smallest text on the flasks.

While we're at it...


So I ask again. Why do these companies insist on making life in the lab even more annoying? There’s a special kind of place in hell for people like these.


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