Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I Took My Mom to See Science Live

“Are you wearing heels?” I asked, and my mother nodded. “Mom, trust me, you don’t want to wear them in lab. You should switch them to some flats.” And she did, rather begrudgingly. My mom was visiting me a few months ago, and for whatever reason, decided that it would be a good idea to experience a full day in a chemistry lab. Not a very good start, I thought, but at least she was sensible enough to wear a comfortable shirt and a pair of jeans.

We got in, and I made a beeline to my hood, knowing a full day was waiting for me. My mom followed me closely, only to back off in horror as I took the propane torch to flame dry my flask. “What’s that for?!” she asked, still wearing that stunned look on her face. “This is to remove all the water moisture in the flask,” I said dryly. I grabbed the requisite reagents for my cyclobutanol fragmentation reaction, and taught my mom to weigh each reagent, add it into the flask and finally, seal it with an argon balloon on. “Wow, balloon, looks like party in the USA over here!” I rolled my eyes, not even bothering to explain to her why we needed inert atmosphere for our reaction.

Five minutes passed, and I showed my mom how to pull a TLC spotter with the propane torch. Again, she looked aghast. Perhaps, propane torch is not the best way to make someone feel settled in on his/her first day in lab. It didn’t help that at this point, a labmate of mine just discovered this band called Hatebeak and started playing their music.

After lunch we got back, only to be greeted by the oh-so-sweet smell of ethanethiol. I could only shake my head, and mumbled to myself, “Goddammit team sulfinate.” My mom, of course, wasn’t pleased. "It smells like durian!" Tuning out the pungent smell, I worked up my reaction, ran the column with my mom watching closely. As befitting a role model for the younger graduate students, I set up my next reaction, the deprotection and hydrolysis of the C19-iodo compound. By then it was almost 6 PM and my mom was getting restless. “Can we go home yet?” I sighed, drove her to her hotel (we grabbed dinner along the way), and came back to work to finish the reaction. 

Months passed, I got my PhD and started my post-doc. After my commencement, my mom was again hanging out with me and this time I decided to take her to my new lab, to show her what molecular biology experiments look like. Never afraid to voice her mind, she quipped when we got in, “It smells like Budweiser.” I had long forgone anything that Anheuser-Busch makes and upped my beer-snobbery to the likes of Fruet, Cuvee de Tomme or Bad Boy, so I said, rather bluntly, “I don’t remember how that smells, or tastes,” to which she retorted by quoting the chorus of this song by FIDLAR (minus the expletive of course). After this exchange, I took her to do a mini-prep to purify my plasmid. “Why don’t you have such a kit in chemistry? Look, it even comes with instruction on how to use it! So convenient!” she asked. Well, I don’t know…

Later in the afternoon, I had to prepare two NNK libraries on 96-well plates, so I sought my mom’s assistance. I took her to the biosafety cabinet, prepared the plates and pipetted my LB media. I gave my mom autoclaved toothpicks and instructed her to pick single colonies into each well with them. “This is a lot of fun,” she confided. I nodded and smiled, happy to know that my mom was enjoying herself a lot more this time around.

By then, it was 6 PM. I put the 96-well plates into the shaker and said to my mom, “Alright, let’s go, we’re done here.” She looked at me in disbelief. “You’re done by 6 PM?” I said, “Uh, yes?” “Why didn’t you pick this field for your PhD? You would’ve had a girlfriend by now with all this free time.”

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