As a rule, when I’m trying to be creative, I have a hard time focusing if my workspace is not pristine and well-ordered. This holds true whether I’m working on a novel at my desk or performing an experiment on my lab bench.
This is why I find a certain area in my lab a little bit distressing:
This is the place where we do our Gram stains. Gram staining is an ancient but still perfectly serviceable microbiology technique whereby a slide of dried bacteria is subjected to a series of dyes and chemicals in order to reveal whether its cell wall is Gram positive (purple) or Gram negative (pink). The purple stain is associated with peptidoglycan, which is found on the surface of a large group of microorganisms. Even though it was invented by the Dane Hans Christian Gram back in 1884, it is still often used as a first step to classify an unknown organism.
I just wish the procedure weren’t so damned messy. There’s no getting around it, though: no matter how careful you are, your dedicated Gram sink is going to end up looking like this. I have a soft spot for this procedure nonetheless, since it was the first microbiology technique I learned as an undergraduate, back when we had to isolate E. coli from our own lower bowels to get full marks.
Those were the days.