In which I yearn for retro lab chic

They don’t make ’em like they used to. Or at least, they don’t name ’em.

Harry and I recently stumbled across this beauty when we were clearing out some of the side rooms in our new lab space.

Allow me to present the Labofuge 6000. Lab-o-fuuuuuuuge. Six thousand, baby. Making it sound as if 5,999 previous models had culminated in this one specimen of spinning, thrumming perfection. Exactly the sort of silly name I was lampooning in my second novel when I named a fictitious bit of kit the “Interactrex 3000”.

What leaps out at you about the Labofuge 6000? It’s big. It’s solid. It’s no-nonsense. It’s got an awesome 180-degree analogue dial thingie, so you know exactly where you stand – none of this digital nonsense. It was made, I am reliably informed by the internets, back in the early ‘Eighties. 1981, to be precise. In 1981, the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” was number one in the UK for five straight weeks; across the Pond, the longest running number-one single on Billboard‘s Hot 100 was “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John. Yes, when the Labofuge was in its prime, I was wearing leg-warmers and rah-rah skirts, getting snubbed by boys who didn’t like girls who knew the answers in class, and was consoling my hurt feelings by losing myself in all the amazing things I was learning in my first serious biology class. I believe it was also the year I was voted by my classmates “Most Likely To Become A Scientist” (which I’m pretty sure was not meant to be a compliment).

But back to the present. As with all the other crap Harry and I have found lying around under decades of dust, we plugged it in and gave it a spin. (Sorry.) We’re not flush with cash, and neither are we proud. But alas, the Labofuge 6000 was not destined to join our fleet of ancient, second-hand workhorses. When we switched it on, the rotor shuddered into life without us having touched any of the dials and began spinning so fast that the entire body rattled and quaked and slowly started to inch its way off the bench. Fortunately, Harry managed to yank the plug, HAL-like, before it crashed onto the floor. Yes, like all the other clapped out fridges, incubators and miscellaneous apparati we’d inherited, the poor Labofuge 6000 had been abandoned for good reason.

Shame. I have a thing about old lab equipment. The new stuff can be downright annoying. Take our brand-spanking-new shaking incubator. If you want to change the rotation speed, instead of simply turning a dial up or down to the desired setting, you have to press five different buttons in the right sequence and then enter a three-digit code. The people who design these things obviously don’t have to use them on a daily basis. I wish I’d had a chance to see the Labofuge in action more than thirty years ago. I’m sure she left all her competition in the dust.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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13 Responses to In which I yearn for retro lab chic

  1. Frank says:

    Wow. Who knows what huge scientific advances this Labofuge 6000 contributed to? I wonder which intellectual giants used it back in 1981? I found a couple of mentions in articles from the 1980s.

  2. I just discovered via Wikipedia that HAL was actually called the HAL 9000.
    Coincidence? I don’t think so.

  3. cromercrox says:

    It would be more retro if it had been called the Lab-O-Fuge. Or better still, the Lab-O-Matic.

  4. rpg says:

    That’s where we went wrong with the AutoPrep. Should have called it the AutoPrep-12000.

  5. That is truly Lab-O-Riffic!

    If it were made today, not only would it have a pointless touchscreen interface, but it would also have a name that is a goulash of upper and lower case letters, containing at least one “x”: e.g., interLabX5000, or iFugeXtreme, or something equally horrid.

    As for 80’s music… Dare was the first “real” LP record I bought. Physical, predictably, was the second. I still have both.

  6. John Gilbey says:

    If it was from the ’80s, it was probably also available as a “Turbo” version – selling for a grand more but with rather racy GoFaster (TM) stripes and a couple of extra switches….

  7. Tiddles says:

    Made me think of the SUX6000 (?) from RoboCop…the supercar that really no one wanted and didn’t work well…

  8. cromercrox says:

    Ah, the trends in marketing. One of the funniest books I have ever read is ‘Gridlock’ by Ben Elton, a satire about the motor industry. There is a scene at the marketing department of Global Motors, named not for their worldwide reach, but for their President, one Doug Global, whose son, Carl Global, was a disgrace – he wanted wing mirrors to be mounted horizontally so drivers could snort cocaine off them while idling at intersections. But I digress.

    Global’s big success in Europe for years has been a nippy hatchback called the Global Moritz. Now they are about to launch a minimally altered version but can’t decide on a name for it.

    The French marketing manager wants it to seem contemporary and urban – the Global Rapper.

    The Italians want the name to emphasise carefree fun – the Global Caprice.

    The Germans want to remind people of reliability and precision engineering – the Global Krupp.

    After a lot of discussion they reach a compromise – the Global Krappee.

  9. I am a bit disappointed to realize, on further reading of said internets, that the 6000 actually refers to its maximum rpm. Which makes it a rather disappointingly functional – as opposed to pointlessly silly – nomenclatural appellation.

  10. Henry – there is also the famous (and true) story of the Chevrolet Nova… unfortunately marketed in Spanish-speaking areas under the same name.

    “No Va” = “doesn’t go”, roughly.

    And following on from my previous flippancy, I am distressed to realize that the latest sequencers from Illumina (makers of the MiSeq and the HiSeq 2500) are the HiSeq XTEN (complete with italicized “X”; and that “ten” is in small caps) and the NextSeq 500.


  11. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Oh, we had such fun discovering all the old and forgotten equipment at the back of cupboards and high on dusty shelves when we moved my postdoc lab to a new building! It seemed such a shame to throw it out, but this was before Craigslist and eBay were as big as they are now, and we couldn’t find anyone who’d take the things we didn’t have space for, and there was nothing quite cool enough to take home and display in my house – no antique microscopes or glassware, just lots of old sequencing gel rigs and the like.

  12. Mark Field says:

    You just know that if you bothered to look, there was probably a Labofuge 6000 Pro. That would have had a digital display, but would have been identical in all other respects.

    We used to have fun naming home built equipment in the same way – I’m sure there is some student now unearthing something awful I built with a name that was funny at the time…

    Useless fact of the day – Olivia Newton-John is the grand-daughter of Max Born who won the Nobel prize for physics in 1954

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