The antidote to science

I’ve come up with a genius idea which I think could help with the wellbeing of fellow Rothamsted colleagues as well as benefitting my own work of course. It brings together a great science stress buster and the necessity of clearing out my experiments.

Pot throwing!!The deal is this. I have nearly 200 trays each containing around 40 pots of plants which have been harvested. This has taken us 4 days and involves grabbing all of the plant material in each pot and cutting it with scissors as close to where the plant meets the soil as possible and then stuffing it into a paper bag which has it’s own unique barcode stuck onto it (created by myself using the wonders of Microsoft Office). Oh and you’ve written on the front a score of whether it’s alive or dead. Some of these plants are being kept on our sandbeds outside for a purpose that I don’t know of yet but the rest are finished. Done. And therefore need removing because we want to put the next lot of 7000 pots through the glasshouses.

Now throwing all these pots away is quite time consuming, you have to load all the trays from the glasshouses onto a big flatbed trolley and then wheel this down to the skip and then tip all of the pots out of the trays into said skip and then take all the empty trays back to the glasshouse. And the skip gets quite full quite quickly so you reach a point where you can’t really tip them in anymore, you have to throw them in to ensure the skip is filled evenly. And this is actually quite fun, throwing the pots into the back of the skip as hard as you can.

So I reckon at times like this, I would be more than happy to trundle the trays round to the skip and then any members of staff on site can have a tray each and throw the pots in to their hearts content. And it will be doing us both a favour. There is surely no better way to take out any anger/bad day/annoyance you may be experiencing; it could have been a bad journey into work, an experiment that’s gone wrong, a tricky grant proposal to write, a paper rejected. Science is not devoid of it’s stresses and these will most likely increase with seniority but I know I feel a lot better after lobbing a few pots about. My stresses usually revolve around queuing on the M1 and making sure all of our experiments are completed within our tight time schedules. And life always feels rosier after pot throwing even if it does draw some funny looks from passing staff.

Throwing away experiments is immensely satisfying. It marks the end of all the hard work you’ve put in and means that it’s a tick off the mental list of work completed. And hopefully means that you’ve got some data and therefore potentially results and that Nature paper you’ve been dreaming about. Unless of course your experiment didn’t work and then you sob over every plant you throw away. And this does happen, science is not immune to it, not all experiments work and you don’t always get the results you wanted. But that’s life and I have experienced it, thankfully only once or twice, and actually it’s just as invaluable because you learn for the next time.

As usual the past couple of weeks have been very busy, as we have ended the second of our huge experiments and jumped straight into the third and final one (for now!!). Once the glasshouses had been cleared, we set up petri dishes with the remaining black-grass populations and got those put into the incubator to germinate last week. Then in the between times this left us time to write the 7000 labels required for all the new pots. This can actually be quite a relaxing job as you can pop some music on or listen to your favourite podcast or catch up with the Archers (self-confessed addict here) and get into the zone of writing label after label after label.

We have also found time to measure our plants that are outside on the sandbeds, (remember them?, they’re probably quite upset as they haven’t received much blog time recently so I’ve featured their picture to make up for it). These have been measured fortnightly for the past couple of months, recording height and number of tillers and they are getting quite big now so last week was probably their last measuring session for now.

And so to this week. Since Wednesday we have been sowing the final of our big experiments, well Richard has been doing the sowing and David and I have been putting the plants into their randomisation. So far I have amassed 36,500 steps and broken my own record of putting out a tray of plants from 13 minutes down to 10 minutes and I’ve also consumed more mini doughnuts than is probably good for my health but at least it’s Friday.

The observant amongst you, will notice that all this means another experiment has been set up and therefore in a few weeks time there will be trays of pots available for my stress busting service. Places are limited, get your name on the list now!!


2 thoughts on “The antidote to science

    • lapwinglaura says:

      I totally agree and, as the owner of an environmental degree, it does upset me how much waste we throw away. Unfortunately the practicalities play a part, in that to empty and then wash these pots does take time. These pots were smaller and aren’t as stable for re-use but larger pots I’ve used in previous experiments are definitely emptied, washed and used again. We also have to be careful because a lot of the plants we use are resistant and so we couldn’t let the pots go off site, all the material is put in a special skip. I do make sure that, where possible, as many of my other tasks at Rothamsted are performed with the environment and recycling in mind and with as little wastage as I can.


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