Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Scrounge of Science

I don't have a grant for my current rotifer experiments. The professor who pays for my Graduate Student Research stipend pays for minor research expenses out of the same grant. Even so, I am not lacking in equipment. In my lab space I have 5 (soon to be six) microscopes of various descriptions, a several thousand dollar refrigerated incubator, a refrigerator, an 8-channel multipipettor and a panoply of smaller bits. I have my own wireless network, desks, chairs, office supplies and so-forth. In all, probably $15K worth of equipment, almost all of it borrowed, traded, scrounged, temporarily absconded with or pulled out of the trash.

The incubator is a perfect example. The temperature in the room varied too much for my rotifers. So I decided I needed an incubator. I went to the incredibly helpful people in my department's instructional support office and asked if they had an incubator they weren't using. They did, but they weren't sure it worked. We pulled it out and I cleaned it up and got it working, so they lent it to me. But there was a problem. This incubator would heat up if the room got cold, but it didn't cool when the room got too hot. I could set a lower bound, but not an upper bound, and I need both. I went wandering the various labs I have access to, and observed that the MVZ molecular genetics lab had a big fancy refrigerated incubator with all the bells and whistles, and it had a piece of paper taped to it that said "always keep at 37C."

I guessed that in order to stay at 37C, it didn't need the refrigeration function. So I talked the super helpful lab manager into letting me temporarily trade the incubator I had borrowed from instructional support for the fancy refrigerated one.

My latest quest is to borrow a compound microscope with digital camera attachment, so I can take known magnification pictures of, and thereby measure, rotifer eggs. It took several days and emailing various friends within the department, but I now know where there is an unused microscope with camera fitting, and I'm working on getting permission to borrow it. I've already borrowed a camera that will work with it.

The thing that is amazing to me, once I stop patting myself on the back for my scrounging prowess, is how much scroungable stuff there is around here. Chairs and desks get thrown away because the professor who used them moved to another university. There are cabinets full of rarely used microscopes everywhere. People have 40 years of equipment piled in their labs and are eager to see it put to use.

When my rotifer experiments are done, I'm going to have an awful lot of borrowed stuff to give back. I hope I remember where I got everything.

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