LAB MESS—By Sasha Azanova
Updated: Mar 10
On October 22, 2020 I met Inge Althuizen, one of the scientists I was paired with, at the Natural sciences building, commonly referred to as RFB, or Realfagbygget. Its brutalist architecture makes it one of the most remarkable and imposing buildings the University of Bergen has at its disposal. You get easily lost inside this massive architectonic slab if you don’t know your way around it.
Once we got inside, an engineer from the department of Earth Science, Pål Tore, met us and guided us through the labyrinth of halls, corridors, and elevators. After passing a number of doors we finally arrived at our destination point. Here, Pål Tore was going to show us a gas chromatograph, a machine that looks a bit like a mini fridge — with a door and a bunch of temperature controls on it. The GC, as it is commonly referred to, would allow Inge to measure carbon isotopes from the samples she had collected during her field work in Finnmark in summer 2020.
This particular lab was a small room of perhaps no more than 20 square meters. Crammed with a million different gadgets and machines it was like a candy store for my inner child. Anywhere I looked, wires, cables, and tubes were poking out, making it hard to tell where one machine ended and the other began. It all appeared to be interconnected, and although we were there to see the GC, I couldn’t help but explore the rest of the lab.
On closer inspection, I could see that far from everything was as disorderly as it first appeared. In fact, both order and disarray reigned in the lab. Wherever high precision was not necessary and perhaps not crucial for the outcome of an experiment, orderliness did not seem to be a top priority. Here and there one could glimpse a sense of humour as well — probably a necessary tool for someone who has to spend hours and hours waiting for the results from a device that likes to take things slow and easy, and a great antidote to often monotonous work. However, where needed, things were in perfect arrangements: rows of measuring glasses neatly organized, thin pipes transporting various gases labeled and well-maintained, needles — clean and sharp.
Last time I checked with Inge, in the end of January 2021, the results weren’t in yet, as a consequence of the GC breakdown just before Christmas 2020. Hopefully, it will be up and running again before Inge goes back to the field next season to collect even more samples!