In my lifetime as a researcher I have made more buffer solutions than I’ve had hot baths. That is to say that, if all the water from all the baths I’ve ever had was compared to the volume of buffer solutions I’ve made, it would be like comparing a glass of water to a fire hose.

Buffer solutions are a catch all term for a variety of water based liquids (normally) that are a mixture of an acid and a base (mostly) which has a pH that doesn’t change when you add more strong acid or base and ensures that the solution has a near constant pH.

Your blood for example is a buffer solution of a kind. The CO2 in your blood and some bicarbonate ions balance to ensure your blood stays at the pH it’s meant to.

In Biochemistry buffers are used for practically everything, as generally we want A + B to equal C, but if adding A and B make the pH go nuts then instead of C we might get D, E, and F – where F stands for flames. Related fact, alphabettie spaghetti has a buffering agent in it to stop it going off over time.

So buffers are constantly used and that means buffers are needing to be constantly made and even more annoyingly, made precisely.

This means that vast hours of my life have been spent weighing out very very precise amounts of materials and then mixing them in even more precise bottles of water. And then (because as I mentioned we’d like this to be precise) I’ve had to measure how precisely good these are with a pH meter.

And just to make it worse the materials you make it out of are surprisingly annoying. Many of the powdery buffer bases and acids are so light and fluffy that so much as looking at them quickly causes them all to statically stick to the spatula and then for no reason at all jump off and land on the scale next to your weighing boat ruining your measuring.

Even once you’ve got them in your bottle they then refuse to dissolve and need vigorous mixing or, if you’re feeling really pissed off, sonic blasting. Unless you’re working with a protein buffer, where vigorous mixing and sonic blasting will make it mix slower and create some sort of unfixable foam.

Some years ago when I got my own lab and was in charge of my own budget for the first time, the first thing I did was buy a huge box of ready made buffer tablets that you chuck in some distilled water… best decision I ever made.


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