In which I expect a little magic

Welcome to the new piece of kit on the lab block:


Isn’t she lovely?

OK, she is a bit of a prima donna. We had to sacrifice half our gel-running bench to make room for her arrival because she refused to seen hanging out with the microwave. And she arrived with an entourage – that shiny new oxygen cylinder trussed up on her right.

I have to admit that up until yesterday, I wasn’t really sure what plasma even was – aside from the sort of substance that was always mucking up the Warp Core with its constant fluxing on Star Trek. But that’s what this machine is for. Making plasma. How cool is that?

I haven’t seen it in action yet, but I am reliably informed that when she struts her stuff, the little viewing window will fill up with swirling, glowing blue clouds, like some sort of celestial laundromat. I have a firm picture in my mind of what this might look like, and am almost afraid that the reality will be a bit of an anti-climax.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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23 Responses to In which I expect a little magic

  1. Richard P. Grant says:

    I saw it and thought ‘oscilloscope’. Now, there’s a cool piece of kit.

  2. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Nope. Not even close. Any other guesses as to what it’s for?

  3. Nicolas Fanget says:


  4. Jim Caryl says:

    For detaching a sheet of cells….at least, that’s what we want to use it for (though with biofilm detachment).

  5. Chris Surridge says:

    Seems a little extreme for cleaning the lab coffee cups.

  6. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Ha! Well, Chris, you obviously haven’t seen the mould population currently multiplying in mine.
    Yes, she’s for the extreme cleaning needed for micropatterning. For which apparently a scrubby-brush and some Fairy liquid just doesn’t cut it.

  7. Tom Hawkins says:

    I shudder a little every time I see a gas cylinder in an academic lab, with a little extra frisson when it’s oxygen. Hope everyone involved has been suitably trained!
    Actually, proper safety types shudder a little about gas cylinders in labs at all – I assume getting a line put in so you can site it outside is out of the question?

  8. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Um…what training? It’s got a regulator and it’s firmly affixed to a solid structure. Is there something else we need to know?

  9. Richard P. Grant says:

    Most important thing I guess would be ‘no grease!’

  10. Henry Gee says:

    Reminds me of an autoclave. Many years ago when the world was young and I was an undergraduate, a friend told me of an autoclave in the medical school known to induce tittering among nurses. ‘Nothing should ever be placed in the human vagina’, read their nursing manual, ‘unless it has been first autoclaved to 150 degrees Celsius’.

  11. Nicolas Fanget says:

    @Henry Ouch.

  12. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Ha ha!

  13. Austin Elliott says:

    Oxygen cylinders, or 95:5% O2:CO2 cylinders, used to be (sometimes still are) a regular feature of physiology labs, as the gases were/are used for gassing physiological media that tissues /cells are bathed in during experiments. If you have a lab without a compressed air system there also might be a great big nitrogen cylinder for pumping up your anti-vibration table.
    Back in the day we used to impose changes in intracellular pH on isolated cells and organs by switching between bathing solutions equilibrated with different gas mixtures. This would mean having several different cylinders in the lab at once. A typical combo was three O2:CO2 mixes – 95:5, 98:2 and 85:15.
    Of course, as Jenny indicates, it was important to have them all securely strapped to something so they couldn’t fall over…

  14. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Oh, we’ve got loads of CO2 tanks (for gassing the 6-legged inhabitants) and a few N2 canisters as well (good for drying slides). I guess we’re only really in trouble if the lab catches fire.

  15. Cath Ennis says:

    Just don’t cross the streams and you should be fine.

  16. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Ha ha!
    I consulted with the building manager today and he looked surprised when I mentioned that we use gas burners in the lab, and muttered something about “the fire triangle” and looking into the implications…it was the last I saw of him!
    Is “the fire triangle” anything to do with the Bermuda triangle?

  17. Austin Elliott says:

    Heh. “Fire triangle” answer (the one you would expect) is here – so I expect he has hurried off to fret about whether you have any combustible substances in your lab.
    (Answer presumably: “yes”).

  18. Åsa Karlström says:

    Jenny: she looks lovely indeed. So, you’re going to use it for cleaning plates? May I ask why? Do you reuse plates or is it something else fancy that I’m missing here in my un-knowledge of cells and phenotypes?
    I have to admit being a bit on the “oxygen tank” close to burner aware (read ‘fear’)… I guess it was one of those scary talks for “undergrads being in the lab and making sure they didn’t do anything BAD” that instilled a lot of fears in me still. Mind you, I know it’s unlikely but the damage…. not to mention if the centrifuges (you know, huge, German, floor ones) were to get off balanced and start moving through the walls of course….
    Austin: or something to fuel the fire after the oxygen has helped the burner, like the benches of wood or something? 😉

  19. Jennifer Rohn says:

    People in my lab will use her to clean slides and plates before printing micropatterns. Some others here then seed cells onto these patterns and see how the mechanical restrictions affect behavior.

  20. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Yes, we have plasma!

  21. Richard P. Grant says:


  22. Åsa Karlström says:

    Jenny> ahh… thanks for explaining! One more thing learned today 🙂

  23. Jennifer Rohn says:

    I don’t do any of this sort of work myself. But I do take a vicarious interest – especially when it involves machines.

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