The golden rule: treat your lab equipment as you hope it will treat your samples…or something

Today I am hanging out in the lab. Not too exciting, but certainly a place where I can be productive (and listen to my favorite podcast: Science…Sort of). While listening, I am using a machine called a Flash EA NC Soil Analyzer, but I am not analyzing soil. This machine measures the Carbon and Nitrogen content (hence the NC in the name) of solid materials. Its a pretty neat machine, and the nifty “autosampler” makes my work a lot easier. All I have to do is put my samples into little tin packets (AKA algae tacos) and tell the machine how much they weigh. Then the machine burns the packets and measures the carbon and nitrogen gasses released and uses the weight of the sample to tell me what percent of the sample is carbon and nitrogen.

NC Analyzer
 I think my favorite part of using the machine is that preparing the samples makes me feel like a GIANT, because I use a micro-balance to weigh the samples and the tiniest spoon you’ve ever seen to add ground algae to the tin cups that get burnt. 
Tiniest spoon EVER!
I use the machine to analyze seaweed. Today I am measuring samples that I collected in Nahant as part of a year-long monitoring project in which I collected seawater and seaweed once per week to see how nutrients in the water change with season, and how seaweeds respond to these changes. Since seaweeds get all their nutrients by absorbing them from the water, I hope (fingers crossed!) to find some kind of relationship between nutrients in the water and in the seaweed, and I am interested to see how this relationship changes throughout the year. Since our global climate is changing, it is important to observe seasonal trends, and how organisms respond to environmental fluctuations.
Weighing a sample on the microbalance
After more than a year of using this machine pretty frequently, we have become close friends. I know when she’s feeling down or needs a little TLC, which is pretty often! Turns out maintaining scientific equipment is an ongoing battle. I think there is definitely a positive correlation between the amount of time a machine saves you (say as opposed to analyzing each sample by hand) and the amount of maintenance it requires. For this machine though, I think its worth it. Other machines in our lab on the other hand….but that’s for another post…

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