The Inventory

or: The Afterlife of Lab Equipment

3 cell culture hoods (2 without key)
2 centrifuges
2 tables (drawers missing)
1 chair
2 shelves
4 incubators (rusty, but clean, all shelves washed and autoclaved)
2 water baths (encrusted with limescale, even after a week of acetic acid treatment)
2 chests of drawers
1 microscope (without bulb)
1 vacuum pump (NEW!!! :))
1 fridge
1 freezer

This inventory sums up my last month’s worth of work. It may not seem impressive, but there it is. For me, every one of those items represents a small victory. You see, for my postdoc, I got my very own, private cell culture room, but unfortunately no budget for equipment… However, as a resourceful scientist with an empty room and no money I decided to negotiate and scavenge, two expertise I had exquisitely mastered during my PhD. Negotiating got me a decent vacuum pump. Scavenging got me the rest.

Furnishing an empty lab with no money: recycle used equipment.

Furnishing an empty lab with no money: recycle used equipment.

Actually, locating spare, (mainly) functioning equipment wasn’t difficult. In most institutes there’s plenty of old equipment lying around, and my department was no exception. Annoyingly, however, although many items had clearly been in disuse for a long time and needed cleaning and/or repairing, it was not trivial to restore them to working life. The primary obstacle was the administration. Every item had been assigned a responsible. It belonged to someone. And moving equipment without the responsible’s permission was a no-go. However, there was no central database of the responsibles – or even the inventory. Thus, I spent ages tracking down these people (who largely didn’t even remember or care about these items), and sometimes the responsible was not to be found at all. (Presumed dead? Considering the age of some of the equipment…)

It annoys me. Not so much because I have wasted a month of my precious postdoc time, but mainly, because most of these items are perfectly fine for use (famous last words). Yet because they had been assigned a responsible eons ago no-one dared touch them, thus letting them rot somewhere in a dark corner. This is a waste of resources. Unfortunately such behaviour is not unique to my new institute. I have seen it elsewhere, too. I’m not quite sure why this happens. I guess people keep equipment as a backup, and then they forget about it. But if you have equipment in your lab that hasn’t been used for years don’t let it go to waste! Give it to charities like Adequation, who will distribute it to labs that need it. Chances are that a) you ditched it because you have a newer/better model of the same thing, b) the people who knew how to use it have long left your lab, and c) that the various accessories you need for that machine are no longer available. I know that many PIs and directors hold on to equipment to mark their achievements and/or territory, but they should learn to let go. Scientists with less resources may gladly use those instruments.

Good news is: I am happy to have given some disused equipment a new life, and I hope to put it to good use. Waste not, want not.


Update 4/12/2013 – An alternate option to put old lab equipment to new use, comes from Nature News. Apparently, some museums are hunting for old lab relics.


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