Field of Science

Microscopists can get grumpy...

Dear Whoever-the-Fuck-Decided-it-was-a-Great-Idea-to-Fuck-up-the-Light-Path-on-my-Scope,

I just spent an HOUR taking shitty images wondering why the fuck no amount of fiddling with my usual knobs could get me a half-decent DIC image. I was very confused - I fiddle with A LOT of stuff when setting up the scope, and don't expect to be easily outfiddled. Especially by a new undergrad. I was getting decent images yesterday, and today everything looked like shit. My condenser was set up perfectly, analyser and prism set up the way I always do when it works, and my sample was even better than usual. It was fucking annoying.

So then I finally snapped, and started fiddling with shit I usually don't fiddle with. With good reason. And guess what I find... the very first fucking polariser is completely misaligned somehow. Seriously, how the fuck did you even FIND that knob??? No one EVER touches it, because you just don't. You never need to. That's why it's hidden in a rather inconspicuous place. You notice how the focus knobs are like RIGHT THERE? That's because you use them a lot. They have to be accessible. Same with the stage control. And the condenser height. And then we get to the slightly more obscure stuff, like the analyser and prism - also must be set up, but not as critical, and you don't really need to fiddle with them constantly.

And then there's the REALLY obscure shit. Stuff you set up once, and never ever think of ever again. While a nice chunk of microscopy can be clueless artistic fiddling, some stuff you just leave alone, because there IS an optimal setting for it, and any deviation from that fucks shit up. This includes the alignment of the bottom polariser. It was set up once, everyone was happy, and no one ever needed to look at it ever again. Until you, most likely one of our new clueless undergrads, decided to find that knob, and give it a fucking twirl, thereby fucking up my DIC light path. And since I don't usually reach there, I had no idea what the fuck was going wrong. Now I know. After an HOUR of perplexed shitty imaging.

How about we introduce a new rule: If you don't know what it is, DO NOT FUCKING TOUCH IT. If you REALLY wanna screw with it, then make sure you put it back EXACTLY the way it was, to the hundreth of a degree/micron/radian/kelvin/mV/WHATEVER. If you don't know, then fucking ASK. Srsly, you look a LOT fucking dumber by doing stupid shit than by asking stupid shit. I ask stupid shit all the time, and they still haven't clued in kicked me out.

This applies far beyond microscopy - what if you decided to twirl some potentially exciting/excitable chemical one day? The consequences could get more dire than an angry labmate, believe it or not. As scary as we may seem, nature can be much worse. Also, nature doesn't give a fuck about you. Just fyi. It really doesn't. It doesn't care you're new and don't know shit - stuff can still explode in your face without warning. After all, this is a LAB for fuck's sake, and we're licensed to have some pretty hazardous shit in here. We may be only BSL1, but we still have stuff than can kill you. Some stuff that you probably shouldn't really touch too much. At all.

So ASK next time. You'll seem a much greater idiot stark naked in the emergency shower because you didn't know what that chemical was than while asking questions of ANY level of stupidity. Also, we're labrats - we lack social skills. Pissing us off too much by doing idiotic shit can lead to the psychological equivalent of standing naked under an emergency shower. Have I mentioned that you should ASK before touching anything? Don't make me do it again.

Angry Labmate


  1. I think you are searching for the word frobnicate. When you're turning the focus knob while watching through the eyepiece, you're adjusting. When you are turning the knob without looking, you're twiddling. When you are turning the knob just because it's there, you're frobnicating.

  2. Thanks, I'll be sure to employ this wonderful new word in my everyday language!

  3. I had a new undergrad under my supervision who, on her first day, had to make up a routine, safe chemical buffer. I asked her if she'd done this before, and she said yes, so I left the lab in order to get a protocol from a buddy. I returned 5 minutes later to find that she was scooping potassium chloride from a container to a beaker with her bare hands!!!! I couldn't believe it...


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