Following on from a discussion about light bulb changing jokes, I was bustling around my lab this morning, getting ready to cryogenically preserve some backups of my new bladder epithelial cell line. I was all set: I’d ordered the Mr Frosty container, prepared my freezing medium, and the five plates of cells were looking beautiful under the microscope. Earlier, I’d been assured that I’d find isopropanol in the flammables cupboard.
The isopropanol was there, all right: a giant, Fort Knox of a metal canister that had never been opened. And it didn’t look like it wanted to be opened any time soon. I’ve never seen anything like it before, so I googled the two registered trademarks printed on the opening: Tri-Sure and Tab-Seal. This led me to a 2-page pdf instruction manual (and a few YouTube videos) on how to open the canister – with a dedicated tool called a “Tri-Sure universal plug wrench”.
Having just spent a month clearing out this lab, I couldn’t recall having unearthed anything that looked quite like said wrench. Neither could one of my old-timer colleagues, who I’d brought upstairs to poke and prod at the impregnable tin.
At this anxious juncture, we finally noticed the two unassuming workmen who’d been lurking in the corridor between the main lab space and some of its annexes, climbing up and down ladders and whistling quietly to themselves. They were, as it happened, changing lightbulbs – a few of the fluorescent strip lights, and the dodgy emergency exit sign. Noticing the impressive array of tools in his box, we asked one of them for help. He didn’t have a Tri-Sure universal plug wrench, and he politely brushed off my attempts to show him the instruction manual on my mobile phone – but nevertheless he radiated confidence. Sure enough, in about thirty seconds, after employing a screw-driver as a wedge and a spanner as a grip, the canister was open.
So though we still don’t know how many scientists it takes to change a light bulb, I now feel sufficiently clued in as to how many light bulb changers it takes to break into a Tab-Seal closure and save the day. Which really just goes to show that sometimes, a PhD is not all it’s cracked up to be.