How to festively decorate your lab

It’s almost Christmas time.

Note that I said almost and not “OMG, it’s Christmas!!” because it’s still November and there is no way I’m accepting the start of Christmas till December the 1st, at the very earliest. Although, the more attentive amongst you may call me a hypocrite, as I did populate the Errant Science store with xmas goodies at the weekend. And they’d be right. They’d also be right to note that I just used them as a literary device to plug my shop.

Now with Christmas comes decoration, and the strange almost primal desire to make the place all ‘festive’. As a scientist and therefore an automatic expert on everything, I can confidently explain that this is because a caveman many tens of thousands of years ago was accidentally impaled upon a Christmas tree and this event infected the human genome with its love of pine and tinsel [citation needed]

As scientists, we have access to more than tinsel – so we can go further than our ancestors and really push the boat out in terms of Christmas decorations. We have chemicals, oozy things, genetic engineering, and lasers. And Christmas is the time of year when we can throw all health and safety out of the window to put some of these to good use. But if you’re stuck for ideas, here are some tips to making your lab feel festive.

chemistreeFirstly, any chemical lab worth its sodium chloride should have a Chemistree. This is a collection of beakers, containers and vials that you hang decoratively off a retort stand in the vague shape of a tree. To be honest, you really have to use your imagination. The chemistree looks even more impressive if you use some glowing liquids or anything that bubbles and froths, although keeping that reaction going all December might be tricky. If any chemists have any ideas please let me know.

Physics labs already have a big advantage as they tend to have lots of things that already glow. If you have lasers around then crack out the red argons and the green dpss ones and with a cheap scanning mirror, you can both make a super bright projected Christmas tree and probably blind your coworkers with Christmas cheer… and lasers. If you are sadly in a lab without amazing lasers then you can always get a few Christmas trees on the oscilloscope.

Now genetic engineering is clearly going to produce the best Christmas creations but sadly most biologists work in places where 8 foot pine trees with tinsel arms that poop presents are frowned upon. Instead, you can always make some festive plate cultures using coloured yeast cultures on agar spread into interesting shapes. Be sure to stick to just using friendly yeasts though – I’m not sure any Christmas tree ornament should also double as a violation of the treaty on biological warfare…

If none of these are seeming all that possible in your lab, then you can always go for a fall back ‘rubber glove Christmas tree’ or simply racking pipette tips in festive shapes.

Scientists in offices are a bit more limited than all the above, because they have to answer to annoying quips like “where are you taking that laser?” and “did that bauble just wink at me?”.

But never fear there are still some things that you can do without incurring the wrath of the office manager. Personally my favourite is to print out all my paper rejection e-mails on different coloured paper and make them into a festive paper chain. You can also decorate the largest of the piles of unmarked student work by drawing a Christmas tree on the side of the stack of paper. This is great because you can use it as an excuse for not disturbing the pile until at least 12 days after Christmas.

I hope that you’ll all be trying at least one of those. If you have any better suggestions then please share them with everyone, in the comments below.

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