Now seriously, someone has to slow this clock down. How can it be almost 2 weeks since I wrote my last post panicking about my impending thesis submission deadline? Mind you, I so terrified myself with the last post that I went into a bit of a sampling frenzy. The sooner I get my lab work done the sooner I can concentrate on the terribly slow process of writing. Our lab group recently acquired a new instrument (an elemental analyser and isotope ratio mass spectrometer) and seeing that it is yet to be flooded with samples from other groups I thought I should jump. I was told that my quota was ‘unlimited’ and so felt terribly productive as I weighed out 273 samples. And then slightly suicidal as I realised I also needed to weigh out 140 standards. I’m not sure whether being able to guess the weight of a single grain of gelatine is a useful skill but by the end of my frenzy I could eyeball the grains and get within 50 micrograms.
Useless skills aside, I also learned how to operate another machine. Ridiculously simple in comparison to the accelerator across the hall that I get my radiocarbon measurements from, and approximately a gazillion times faster than the system I use to retrieve isotope ratios from individual amino acids. Again feeling terribly productive I cranked the handle and ran wheel after wheel of samples; reams of data spewing forth to be processed, corrected, compared and plotted. And then it broke. I couldn’t believe it. The temperature control decided I was having far to good a run and failed, meaning the furnace cooled too quickly and shattered. As a result we were losing carrier gas, which in fact was no longer a problem because with the furnace kaput nothing was being combusted and there was no sample gas to carry. And so I have three trays of tiny little tin cups each with a piece of deep-sea coral just waiting to be analysed.
But rather than missing a beat with this setback I lurched forward and went about the task of assembling the vacuum line (see above) that I use to produce graphite targets from my samples for presentation to the aforementioned accelerator. Having processed hundreds and hundreds of samples (this is not my first bout of productivity) it was dirty, so I pulled apart and scrubbed every valve (~20), every fitting (~50) and regreased every o-ring (~100), only to take hours to put it back together to find….I have a leak. At this point I threw my hands in the air and cleaned the benches instead. My workspace now looks more like a museum. A place where I can bring people to show them where I used to do work before I managed to break everything. Sigh. However it is not as bad as previous weeks. At least I wasn’t interstate. As soon as I can get everything working I’ll have more data than I know what to do with, and I’ll probably complain about that too…