Friday, March 28, 2008

What is "The Stuff"? (besides bad, I mean)

JenniferYou might recall that, when last I wrote, it was Tuesday, and I had gone in to work but had then been sent home, due to our little fire Friday evening. On Wednesday, everyone on my floor got an email from the boss advising us to just stay home this week. I quote her here: "... I spoke with the [university maintenance] and the clean-up company today and they will start with the corridors and put in some extra ventilation which will make it possible for everybody to work in the offices. But for the moment I would really recommend you to stay home and work if you can. It does not feel good to breathe "the stuff" and [E.] said that if you close the door and open the windows "the stuff" comes in under the door ..."

What, you may ask, is "the stuff?" Well, I didn't know, and I couldn't stand not knowing what "the stuff" was anymore, so I went in this morning, ostensibly to fetch some some more things to read at home, but also of course to poke about and see how things were going. I walked in to find the floor of my corridor has been covered with a Tyvek-like substance. The air smelled of... something, something not good. Our two technicians were in the corridor near the break room, hovering over a lab cart filled with glassware and looking rather grim, their normally pristine lab coats covered in smudges. "Look at this," AS. said to me, and picked up a bottle. "We just put this through the dishwasher, and this is how they came out." The bottle was covered in a thin smear of nasty oily brownish... stuff. This appears to be "the stuff," and it's covering the furniture, corridor walls, and just about every surface in the corridor. No one knows exactly what "the stuff" is, although it is almost certainly the result of burned plastics. And if not even the hot soapy water of the laboratory dishwasher can wash off "the stuff," you know it's nasty.

E. has been coming in to work each day anyway, at least for a little time, and he came by my office this morning and admitted cheerfully that breathing "the stuff" had given him a headache yesterday. He did say that he thought that the air had gotten better with every passing day, and as we sat with my office door closed and the window open, it didn't seem too bad. I looked at some data for a while, then it was time for fika. Besides myself, E. and V. were the only inhabitants of the second floor around, and V. had just come by to meet with a student, and said he had no intention of staying.

After a half hour downstairs, we went back up, to find that they had begun cleaning, which meant that they were stirring up "the stuff," and the smell was much increased. We hustled to our respective offices to shut ourselves in. I thought I would just take a quick peek at some new data before I left... then I looked at some more, then some more (DNA sequences are like potato chips, you can't do just one)... while I sat there looking at my beautiful sequences, my eyes burning just ever so slightly, another staff member stopped by, on his way back from retrieving something from his office. "You know that you are voluntarily poisoning yourself," he said, in his usual jovial manner. "Ha ha," I said. "... really?" "Yes, I think so," he said.

Well, even I can take a hint, eventually. I left soon thereafter, just before noon, having spent a grand total of probably two hours at most exposed to "the stuff." Joe and I then spent the afternoon preparing for our move this weekend to Flogsta by running out to Ikea again, for sheets and towels. What will work be like on Monday? Tune in then...

1 comment:

  1. "Bad stuff, Maynard."

    DNA sequences, unlike potato chips, haunt my dreams.

    It's amazing that nothing irreplaceable is gone. One of our -80 freezers died last week, causing chaos and trips for dry ice. Did you know that you can buy dry ice from Washtenaw dairy? (Unfortunately the people who bought it were on diets and didn't get any ice cream.) I think we should work out a reciprocal plan with a lab in another building to store backups of strain collections. A fire would kill our entire research program.