In which we make a mess of things

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:

Gram Stain sink

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.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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6 Responses to In which we make a mess of things

  1. Jim says:

    I have never, in all my years in microbiology, ever, seen a clean Gram stain area. Ever. They are the Jackson Pollock’s of the lab ;-)

  2. a) Ewwww to your undergraduate story.

    b) Two words – purple paint. Although an attractive purple countertop might actually result in the area being even messier, since it would be harder to see the spills…

  3. And there was I thinking it might be Coomassie Blue….

  4. Purple lino would be a great idea!

  5. I expect my lab to be a bit of a mess – but then I work with things in vacuum ampuoles – which we scrupulously clean inside – whatever is outside is fair game… sample in happy clean world – outer world Orwellian dystopia – ;) – lino is a good idea or you could get a black light (yeah 1980s) so it would look really cool …

  6. Steve Caplan says:

    Took awhile for the significance of the gram stain to sink in…