I have a confession. Despite years of terrible paper work, awful online training, tedious training days and being very sarcastic online I am actually a stickler for health and safety (H&S to cool people). I like being alive and I like that some people have spent quite a lot of time thinking of ways I might accidentally kill myself and then explaining that I shouldn’t do those things.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of H&S rules that are eye brow-raisingly weird and pointless. To this day I don’t understand why my 40 ul vial of colourless antibody solution had to be looked at by a vet on import for ‘safety assessment’. But for the vast majority you can understand why they exist.

For example, one of the simplest and to me most reasonable is no food and drink in the lab.

Firstly, labs contain lots of pretty horrible things and often horrible things that you might not actually be aware of. Mostly, the horrible things aren’t all that horrible if they are kept outside your body, and skin is pretty effective at making sure that things stay out or at the very least just do a bit of surface damage.

Sticking stuff into your body while in the lab gives the horrible things a nice easy route past your skin and right down into your horrible thing-phobic organs. It’s kind of like the city of Troy not waiting for the Trojans to build a horse but going out and buying one themselves and then dragging it into the city. Maybe they manage to drag it inside without it filling up with Trojans but why take the risk when they can wait until the Trojans have got back on their boats to write very long books and THEN go buy themselves a nice wooden horsey.

Secondly, humans are frankly disgusting when we eat food. Unless we try very hard indeed it’s practically impossible to eat any food without some small crumb, flake or micro drop flying from our mouths. Most people can be very tidy and there will be barely any crumbs etc at all. Most adults manage a half decent job of this but to get none is an almost impossible feat. We are, a best, only good enough to not drop big crumbs, short of eating with a microscope we tend to miss the rest.

For you personally dropping crumbs is at best food wastage. But for the horrible things it is not something you want happening. Mostly the horrible things in labs will sit very happily without being all that horrible if you leave them alone. But some horrible things get very excited when you add extra bits to them. High powered lasers, for example, get really quite agitated if you add crumbs and become ‘fiesty’. It can also be hard to tell if your testing of the horrible things is causing a change in the horrible thing or if the doughnut you just dropped into it is.

Both of these seem somewhat obvious and hopefully in reading this you are nodding along going “yup, makes sense”. Although, I’m aware lots of you won’t be because…

I keep constantly seeing people eating in the god damned lab!

Stop it!!

No experimental setup is improved by bits of blueberry muffin and no blueberry muffin is improved by being dunked in PBS buffer. Testing that theory isn’t science, trust me, it’s been tested… extensively. I know it’s hard to got literally any time at all without a bag of crisps or flat white mocha decaf soy latte but can we all please collectively agree that we don’t eat them in the lab!

This will sometimes means going without snacks for upwards of 2 hours but people often say science requires sacrifice and that sacrifice is your ability to snack constantly. If that is too high a price to pay then I suggest you switch to a subject where your snacking won’t either kill you or cause something the fire-brigade will later describe as “the incident”.

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1 Comment

ErrantScience in April – ErrantScience · 24 April 2019 at 13:10

[…] Matthew wrote a heartfelt plea to scientists to stop snacking in the lab – I think that’s a fair enough […]

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