Friday, July 4, 2008

My Love/Hate Relationship with my Bunsen Burner

I don't know many microbiologists that haven't used a Bunsen burner. We use them several times a day to sterilize loops, spreaders, pipettes, and other types of tools in the flame it produces. Sure, there are other methods for on the spot serilization, but many people still use the good old Bunsen burner.
Bunsen burners also provide good, lab-style entertainment. Who doesn't like to burn the occasional nitrocellulose membrane? I'm not a pyro or anything, but setting fire to things that turn cool colors is fun!
I prefer my flame adjusted so I get a nice "strong" flame with a well-defined blue cone in the center. I should also mention that my Bunsen burner kicks extra ass because it produces a very large flame. In fact, you can hear my burner from pretty far away. (Mine looks like the one pictured left.)

BUT. There is a dark side to my relationship with my Bunsen burner.

Whenever I leave the lab last, I am haunted by thoughts like: "Did I turn off my flame? Surely I did. Didn't I? What if it's on? What if I burn the lab down? or the building?" Once this starts there is no way of convincing myself that I did in fact, turn off my flame. So, I get in the car, drive to lab, and check the burner. It is always off. ALWAYS!

After going through this song and dance at 2:00am on a Wednesday morning, I decided it was time for action. I needed to incorporate some type of activity before I left the lab that would remind me that the Bunsen burner was off, since the act of turning it off left no impression what-so-ever.
These days, I wave my hand over the top of my Bunsen burner (where the flame shoots out) just before I exit. I can remember doing this activity, so I know the flame is off.
The hand-waving (no pun intended) is working well right now, but what if it eventually becomes so routine that I forget doing it? I'll suppose that I will end up creating some something new and eventually I will end up with some long, bizarre, lab-leaving ritual. Not to mention, I will leave the lab last everyday because I wouldn't want anyone to see that. Another possibility is that I will develop some new obsession. Like...did I turn on the shaker? I hope not.
For now, wondering about the state of my Bunsen burner flame is the only strange thing I obsess about. Furthermore, I have a lab mate that thinks it's real funny to tell me that I left my flame on the previous day.


TitleTroubles said...

I have a similar problem with my FPLC. Did I stop washing that column? Is it going to run out of buffer before morning, leaving me to explain to Boss that I need another $2k for a new column? I've incorporated a plan that involves a pink sign and a lot of notes on tape. It worked for about two weeks before I couldn't remember--did I double check that the tape said off?

microbiologist xx said...

This is exactly what I think is going to happen to me. In couple of weeks or months I will start wondering-"Did I wave my hand over the bunsen burner?"

Mad Hatter said...

Hey, another microbiologist! Cool!

When I was in grad school, one of my labmates used the bunsen burner on my bench after I'd left for the day and left it on all night. I discovered it the next day when I nearly set my lab notebook on fire! Now I turn off all the lights and walk around the lab looking for flames before leaving.

microbiologist xx said...

Holy crap! That is kind of scary. A bunsen burner has only been left on overnight in our lab one time and thankfully, I had nothing to do with it.

Tom said...

Webcam, focused on your bunsen burner.