In which we experience the big thaw

It happens suddenly, when you least expect it. It is a matter of utmost urgency, and requires the entire lab to drop everything else they’re doing and pull together. No one experiment is more important than this intermittent, yet inevitable event.

I am speaking, of course, of your typical Lab Freezer Emergency. Of course we are all in denial about defrosting. We watch, day in and day out, as the ice mounts and it becomes more and more difficult to pull out drawers and closer doors. Of course we know that we should do some preventative scraping but – aside from perhaps the occasional lazy kick which sends shards of ice flying – we can’t really be bothered.

Until that fateful morning when we arrive in to lab and find that the freezer – almost always the one that contains the most precious samples – is frozen in the door-ajar position.

Battle stations. Down your lattes, ladies and gentlemen, put on your white coats and gloves, and grab your favorite implement of choice – metal spatula, 10 mL plastic pipette, Eppendorf rack. No, not you two: you guys turn loaves into fishes and actually find another freezer that has the space to accommodate all the imperiled boxes for a few hours. No, I don’t care if there’s “no room” – make some. Oh, hey: brainwave. Go flirt with that cute post-doc down the corridor and see if he’s got some space. Chop chop.

It’s cold. It’s hard work. It’s – after a few minutes – getting pretty wet on the floor. We free the stuck drawers, liberate the now moist and floppy cardboard boxes, and bang at the ice in turns until we’re all short of breath. Several dozen rolls of paper towels are mush beneath our feet. We fill trays with hot water to speed up the process. And a few hours later, the freezer is ice-free, patted dry and good to go.

All in a day’s work, ma’am. We should take this on the road.

(Note: This is a cross-post from my silly LabLit blog, LabLiteral. I’m too busy fomenting rebellion with Science Is Vital to write much these past few weeks. Which reminds me, have you signed the petition yet? And put Saturday’s rally in your diaries?)

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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13 Responses to In which we experience the big thaw

  1. Stephen Moss says:

    A fine allegory for the forthcoming meltdown in science funding. But let’s be optimistic, maybe those science budgets can yet be saved, or at the very least, frozen.

  2. Bob O'Hara says:

    Who’s going to volunter to flirt with that cute Chancellor of the Exchequer, though?

  3. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Bob, it sounds like you just volunteered.

  4. Åsa Karlström says:

    ah Bob, that’s how it’s done? 😉
    Jenny> so true. It’s always "we should be really it can keep for another day….. and then you can’t". I am quite found of those wipes that suck up like 4 times the amount of fluid and hold it (can’t remember the name for them right now) but they made my life a lot easier when it comes to thawing and not slipping when the ice falls on the floor… not to mention that I always am a bit weary looking at the water under neath the freezer – electricity and water? 😉
    Good luck with the rally!! I’m looking forward hearing about it all – and next Thursday’s session!!!

  5. Jon Moulton says:

    I found a wet/dry shopvac useful for my last defrosting adventure.  It slurps up meltwater and ice fragments and brings warm room air into the freezer as you work.
    Go Scivitals!

  6. Maxine Clarke says:

     A certain Professor I know has been plagued by these emergencies recently, though they are more down to the deficiencies of the paid-for utilities than to over-deferred housekeeping! It is particularly galling, not to mention time-consuming, when these crises occur at weekends or late at night, as is often the case (presumably due to late-night drilling of some new transcontinental tunnel, or other, cutting through vital wires that are inadequately documented).

  7. Kausik Datta says:

    I know you are all charged up about "the rebellion" (and you should rightly be – I only wish I could do something to help from across the pond). But please allow me to take a moment to applaud Dr. Rohn on having given such an eloquent expression to a situation which must have plagued all of us at some time or other. 
    I had a surreptitious power disruption in my lab that none of us knew about. It happened during the weekend, and the freezers are lined up outside the back door to the lab, in the service corridor. One venerable old -20C freezer, so old that it did not have a temperature gauge or an alarm, breathed its last unbeknownst to any of us, and we had no clue, because we were dealing with a transcoastal move. I don’t know how many days passed, but when we finally opened the freezer – quite by chance, because we needed a reagent from there – the inside was neatly dry and sported luxuriant growth of flora and fauna mold on and in all the cardboard boxes, and labels of bottles and reagent tubes and so forth.  

  8. Jennifer Rohn says:

    The worst thing about freezer defrosts is that you say to yourself, right, I’m going to take this opportunity to throw out everything without a label, or that bears handwriting from someone who left the lab five years ago, or whose salts have precipitated out of solution – make a fresh start.
    But by the time you’ve finished you’re so exhausted that you can’t be arsed and all the old crap gets piled back in.
    p.s. Asa, I like your style of not bothering to delete the huge double line-break that the MT4 commenting system stupidly inflicts on us. I really should follow suit, but it offends my sense of formatting not to laboriously delete them all…

  9. Åsa Karlström says:

    Jenny> 😉 yeah… I usually take them out (or try to) but this time I forgot after having to resign in three times to be able to press submit….. got lost in the drama….

  10. Richard P. Grant says:


  11. Jennifer Rohn says:

    I’m going to EMBRACE the extra line breaks.
    EMBRACE THEM, I say.

  12. Kausik Datta says:

    If you keep increasing the girth of the line spacing in this manner, soon all four of your limbs will not be enough to EMBRACE them.

  13. tiurma simanjuntak says:

    the very nice descriptions about purposed gap…asking about curriculum also didnt help so much, thank you for discussing about ’ you know it wont be last forever…
    i think crude the extract take so many advantages during these hoax times…

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