Thursday, September 24, 2009

So where's the body?

A usual morning. Alarm rings, peel myself out of bed, shower, make the oh-so-terrible five minute walk to the office.

I drop off my bag in my office, find my keys (how do they always end up at the bottom of the bag?) and head down to lab.

The door creaks open, I blindly reached for the light switch, and -

Who DIED in here?

The workbench closest to the door was spattered with red, the trash can was full of crumpled white paper towels soaked in dark brown. The floor was smeared with stains, syringes were scattered across the table, and random bits of tubing draped from the chairs.

I first wondered if everybody was okay - accidents do happen in labs, much as we try to keep everybody safe on campus. Nobody was collapsed in a corner that I could find in my hasty sweep of the lab space, so there was no need to call Medical. Then I figured maybe it was premeditated. A late night crime of opportunity or passion, hastily mopped up with towels ripped from the closest dispenser.

And what situations might drive someone to the brink, to spill blood in such a sacred space as the lab?

Could it be a lowly undergraduate assistant, slaving away at their work to take their mind off recent drama with their significant other? The spurned lover turns up at the lab, determined to confront the undergraduate. In the throes of a broken heart, our protagonist launches the closest piece of glassware at the supplicator, the shards slicing upon impact. Let us hope in this case the incident led to remorse by the undergraduate and a happy reconciliation.

Perhaps it was a graduate student working into the wee hours of the night. An intruder, intent on expensive and untraceable lab equipment, tries his luck in the basement lab space. Little did they know the graduate student's experiment was in process, critical to his graduation. Underestimating the intensity of the graduation instinct, the intruder was met with a violent and bloody retaliation from the riled student.

Perhaps a student from a neighboring lab was pressed under an impending deadline, and needed to use some equipment. Desperate to complete their paper or grant proposal, they sneak into lab and try to borrow ours. Unaware of the particular quirks of our equipment, perhaps a finger or arm gets in the way of a piece of machinery. Our last-minute researcher cleans up as best they can, and chalk it up as a sacrifice to a greater cause.

Maybe it was the professor himself. Angered at the state of research in his lab, he takes it out on someone - anyone - who is holding him back. The safety officer, continually snooping around for violations. The accountant, always asking for triplicate copies of every receipt. The admin, constantly creating more useless paperwork to be completed. Shoot, even the department brass - never giving him a moment's peace to think about the research problems, or the lab space to pursue those problems, or allowing even one day without meetings to actually be productive.

Fortunately the mystery was solved when my labmate arrived later in the morning. Apparently a mishap occurred with our fluid testing setup - a testing setup which runs red dye through manufactured parts. One channel was blocked so the dye backed up, creating a pressure high enough to burst a seal and sending fountains of food coloring spraying off in various directions.

Not nearly as interesting as I'd hoped. I was already thinking of ways to bury the body.

What irritations do you worry might eventually drive someone in your lab to violence? Who are you concerned will one day take a long, ragged breath and snap?

1 comment:

  1. What a great post. If you ever give up engineering, write a novel.