In which the light bulb’s on the other foot

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.

TabSealed: the Fort Knox of canisters!

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.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
This entry was posted in Scientific method, Silliness, The profession of science. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to In which the light bulb’s on the other foot

  1. rpg says:

    Bet they couldn’t clone a gene, though.

  2. Ian the EM guy says:

    Almost the first thing I ordered when I started in the em lab was a hammer (I call it “The Petsuader”) and we also have a variety of saws, pliers, adjustable wrenches and screwdrivers. Most importantly we have a Dremel multipurpose power tool with a range of attachments and a few vices for holding things tight. We can get most things done.

  3. rpg says:

    Sounds like my shed. Apart from the vices–I have my own vices…

  4. Cath@VWXYNot? says:


    This is how a carpenter opens a beer, by the way…

  5. Hmm. After a fair few of those beers, do you ever get serenaded with this 60s classic, Cath?

  6. Brilliant. When in doubt, find the folks with the most tools (and the most confidence, I suppose).

    Reminds me of my restaurant kitchen days, and learning the correct technique for opening those big plastic barrels of foodstuffs (involves the largest knife available and a slashing technique that Norman Bates would be proud of).

  7. John the Plumber says:

    I’m just wondereing how many plumbers it takes to change a bladder. Does your new one fit o.k. Jennifer?

  8. P.S. @Cath – do you know how long it took me to find a nice pair of pincers like that? Not for opening beers, mind you. Seems that hardly anyone manufactures the things any more.

  9. Mr E Man buys antique tools on eBay – the steel in the planes, chisels etc. is apparently much better than all but the most expensive new tools.

  10. John the Plumber says:

    Hi Jenny

    Get somebody to treat you to a pair of gland nut pliers – but only get good quality. No laboratory or fashion conscious woman should be without a pair. – Check the link.

Comments are closed.