Biocurious is a weblog about biology, quantified.

Breaking lab equipment

by PhilipJ on 12 May 2006

We’ve been joking in my lab for the past few weeks about how I’ll probably cause massive rotor failure next time I have to use the centrifuge for a plasmid prep, but so far (fingers crossed) that hasn’t happened. But, it leads me to an interesting question to ask all of our readers:

What’s the most expensive piece of lab equipment you’ve ever broken?

I’ll fess up and admit that I scratched the surface of a 2.5” diameter gold mirror with a ball driver once, vertically along the centre of the whole mirror. Don’t pick up expensive optics in a hand that’s already holding a ball driver! Suffice to say it isn’t in use anymore.

The other piece of equipment I’ve broken (and originally didn’t know the price of) is a superconducting disk used to show off the Meissner effect (which I still find cool to this day). I somehow managed to drop the disk on the floor and it cracked into a number of pieces. Amazingly, I fit the bigger pieces together and zip-tied it back into disk shape, and it went about happily levitating magnets again, so I guess it wasn’t really broken in the end, but definitely a little uglier.

Share your own lab (mis)adventures in the comments!



  1. PhilipJ    4119 days ago    #

    I should also mention that the superconducting disk I broke was owned by André’s undergraduate advisor. It turns out it is relatively easy (and cheap) to make these cuprate disks anyway, but it was cause for some concern before I knew.


  2. Mark Larios    4119 days ago    #

    In my high school chemistry class, we were supposed to pay for anything that we broke.

    We weren’t playing with anything much more expensive than plexiglass beakers, but the teacher told us up front that if we happened to break anything, rather than tell him we should just throw it away. If he didn’t know about it, there was no way he could make us pay for it.

    I guess that wouldn’t work with centrifuges and the like…


  3. Cara    4118 days ago    #

    In my undergrad orgo lab, I purchased insurance on my glassware and my roommate didn’t. When she dropped and shattered an expensive connecting piece, we briefly considered insurance fraud… Other than that, my precious “equipment” is my genetically modified mice and I’ve spent more than a small amount of time crawling around the floor of the mouse house chasing an escapee.


  4. PhilipJ    4118 days ago    #

    Mark—well, the centrifuges are all shared use, and aren’t even in my building (I have to walk down to the Molecular Biology building to use them), so if I wanted to be particularly evil I guess I could also not tell anyone about it… but hopefully it will never come to that.

    Cara—that’s hilarious! Have you ever lost one, or had one die before they were supposed to?


  5. Andre    4118 days ago    #

    I haven’t yet broken anything expensive, but there’s lots of potential for the near-future. For the combined AFM/fluorescence experiments I’m doing I’m sharing a CCD camera with one of the other microscopes in the lab and every time I want to make a measurement, I have to remove it and carry it to another room. I’m always careful, but I think it’s only a matter of time until I drop it (it’s $40k to replace).

    We’re considering using AFM cantilevers with carbon nanotube tips, but they cost $500 each and you need to manipulate them with tweezers to put them in place in the instrument for each experiment. They’re small and easy to fumble. With the nanotube tips, coffee induced hand shake could really start costing a lot!


  6. Nate    4118 days ago    #

    Computer Scientists don’t really have lab equipment, per se, but I did sit on my laptop about 2 years ago. It still runs, but the screen has a giant diagonal crack going across it. Luckily, it was due to be replaced anyways, and just before my advisor was putting in the order for my PowerBook!


  7. PhilipJ    4118 days ago    #

    André—that sounds like one exciting camera. What’s so special that it costs $40k? We use “cheap” cameras in our tweezers, though our requirements were simply 60 Hz refresh rates and a black and white image.


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