The Autoclave

If anyone is involved in biology, anywhere, anyhow, you probably know whats its like--That magic infinite and orgiastic joy!--to use an Autoclave. Like any loving inanimate object, this spicy monolith of stainless steel technology responds best to a skilled, mechanical touch, doing anything you like provided you push the right buttons. It'll turn up the heat for as long as you want and (dare I say it?) let things get just a bit steamy....

But don't be so easily seduced by that sexy exterior. The autoclave is so much more...

Woe betide the unsuspecting undergraduate labbers who screw on the caps to their centrifuge tubes! Who hermetically seal their 4L culture flasks with saran-wrap and a bit of Cell-tak! Who, in a moment of e. coli lysate induced mania attempt to stuff in the 6 metric tons of Styrofoam coffee cups that have collected on their desks for the past year and turn the power all the way up to 11! Who wonder with exquisite dread at "WARNING! Contents may be compromised" flashing in all its LCD beauty on the digital menu screen!

....And, upon opening the door, only then realize the answer to that philosophical mystery: What exactly DOES happen when you autoclave a mountain of Styrofoam?

Or a bottle of ozone for that matter. But there the dust clears.

I think of her at my 10th work hour, hear (and smell) her pain at the slosh of green fuzz in my bottles of previously sterile media left uncapped in the same room as my salmonella yersinia pestis Doomsday mutant creation, at the brink of insanity and success when I realize my time-sensitive protein purification must be delayed for a fatal hour while I hurry to blast my glassware on the "fast" cycle.

...While I girlishly draw my bright-orange synthetic fiber, industrial grade oven mits over my pipette and hydrochloric acid scarred hands. War stories of sleep-deprivation at the edge of a freshly opened 245C metal door and the screams of lab-techs as they realize somebody has had the mistaken courtesy to turn the Autoclave OFF--leaving the entire floor unsterilized and paralized, heads frozen to the drip drip of ice-buckets abandoned in hysterical fear on the hypo-allergenic tile.

O, Muse, let us sing of Acetic Acid! Of the crippled twinge of nerves by our left temple, pulsing like a bad anime while our olfactories shrivel with the rush of vinegar fumes! The crackle of ceiling panels adjusting to released steam! That blood-boiling fury as we're left with the "bad" machine because some asshole with a broken leg speed-crutched down the hall and stole the good machine before we could get to the Autoclave room!

What could make us feel more alive? Than that secret fear that one day, when alone and mad in the bowels of the night, we will pry open those steel jaws only to have them clamp back down on us--forever.

That perhaps, in the rattle of plumbing and the quaking floor, the beast really does live....

But most of all, the Autoclave is hope. Hope for a day when God Almighty, the thing breaks free from those plastic bounds to magnificently and vehemently explode. And with our data gone, our PI's solid gold MD/PhD/MBA/BA/PhK.U certificates reduced to molten blobs, the grumpy lab-tech incinerated, our magnesium oxidized and the 15-year-old Chinese food in the back of the lounge fridge buried under a thousand tons of shattered beakers we will finally be Free.