I have, for the most part, lived a charmed life in research. My labs have been located in the middle of the UK a country best known for its dull, grey weather which at worst is ‘a bit damp’ or ‘slightly warm’. Also, being in the middle means that by the time any mildly more dramatic weather reaches us, it’s downgraded to a light drizzle or breeze.
Being in this charmed location (in a weather sense, I think the lack of nearby tropical beaches excludes it from being a more general charmed life) explains why, when we actually get weather outside of this dull range of ‘meh’, I start sounding like a crazy person holding an “End is Nigh” sign.
If the temperature gauge goes below 0°C you’ll find me wrapped in 15 different layers and google how to build a fire out of Ikea furniture and searching for the nearest place to buy a husky.
Above 30°C, then I generally consider that the earth has either become a fiery hellscape and respond by lying on the floor and repeatedly declaring it’s hot. I would be rubbish in a post apocalyptic wasteland.
But in the lab the charmed life continues because in the main I even avoid these very reasonable reactions to the extreme temperatures. I’ve always worked in labs with this wonderful invention called Air Conditioning. This wondrous and amazing invention means that my lab stays at a nice regular 22.5 degrees. It’s a perfectly okay temperature. Not too hot, not too cold, completely and totally, okay.
So when for any reason my climate control system fails (previous reasons include: because it was missing all its water, because it needed a part replacing that no longer existed, and more recently because it broke its car fan belt) I react in much the same way I do outside of the lab, with all the clam decorum of a panicked cat trying to run away on a polished floor.
In the cold of winter I’ve had some of my solutions of long chain alcohols start converting into solid lumps of long chain alcohols, and in the summer I have bits of equipment refuse to turn on until I get them an ice pack, a fan and a freddo coffee. So at the slightest sign of temperatures that leave the happy zone of ‘okay’ I throw my hands up and declare I can’t possibly do science in such conditions.
But while I was recently complaining about yet another fiery inferno of a heatwave and why this causes me woe (so much woe) someone very politely pointed out that in their country it’s 40°C, on a regular basis. And despite living in a temperature at which I am very certain my entire body would melt, somehow science still gets done.
Someone else explained how during this current UK heatwave they are enjoying a very nice frosty spell in a wintery sub equator region, at a pleasant -5°C. They were also still busy doing science (I assume while wearing special lab fur hats).
Both of these were good reminders that science happens all around the world in a huge range of lab conditions, to say nothing about field work (because I’ve written an entirely separate future blog post on that subject and I’d hate to spoil it). Heck, amazingly people managed to do science before air conditioning was even invented.
Living in a country with the worlds most ‘okay’est weather has made me complacent about working around problems like the temperature or the impact of a possible hurricane on my pipetting. Which given the current climate trend seems like a complacency I really need to get over.
So my new plan in the current heatwave is to try and be a bit inspired by people that have to deal with this climate everyday and make it work. Even if that means standing in a bucket of ice with 3 fans strapped to my head. Heat wave or no heat wave, there is science to be done!