Biology Department Scavenger Hunt!!

Chad asked a fun question last week, and I just got around to finding it yesterday:

What items should be on the list for a scavenger hunt through an academic physics department?

Let’s now ask: what items should be on a list for a scavenger hunt through a biology department? Taking some hints from Chad and his commenters, here are my ideas to prime the pump:

  • A reagent bottle with a label dating it to the 1980s
  • An out of use fume hood above “the line”
  • A paper copy of a PLoS Journal (they exist)
  • A non-top-heated thermal cycler
  • A Project Steve Steve
  • A journal article used to prop up something
  • A lab with more desktop computers than people (laptops don’t count)
  • A non-model organism without a sequenced genome
  • A PI without a personal webpage
  • Someone doing fieldwork in winter
  • A poster on display from a meeting at least five years ago

What do you think?


  1. #1 qetzal
    November 8, 2007

    Reagents and/or apparatus used for doing Maxam/Gilbert DNA sequencing. Bonus points for hand-drawn capillaries for gel loading.

    An analog strip chart recorder.

    Re-usable Pyrex graduated pipets.

    A list of “Lab Rules” taped up somewhere. Bonus points for every rule that’s being obviously ignored.

    Someone working at the bench while wearing the recommeded PPE (personal protective equipment): a lab-coat, gloves, and eye protection. (That one will be hard!)

  2. #2 sudders
    November 8, 2007

    Something horrid and furry growing in a media bottle.

    A reagent that has obviously been purchased from the supermarket (e.g. Marvel milk powder)

    Conversly A reagent that is obviously the same as something that could have been purchased from the supermarket, but for a tenth of the price paid (e.g. protein blocking buffer – marvel by a different name)

    Someone mouth pippetting

    A COSHH (Control of substances hazardous to health) assesment for something found regularly in the home e.g. NaCl.

    A collection of reagent packaging boxes, kept just in case on of them comes in handy sometime.

  3. #3 Jonathan Badger
    November 8, 2007

    Well, maybe it’s just because I used to work with Jonathan Eisen, but I never realized paper copies of PLoS journals are particularly rare — I have the whole first couple of years of PLoS Biology in print above my desk (more for show, really; dead tree journals are pretty useless for reference, imho)

    And while one would *think* that every PI would have a webpage these days (what, a decade since they first became popular?), actually, I find that a surprising member don’t — even ones working in bioinformatics!

  4. #4 Natalie
    November 8, 2007

    I’ll add:

    A preserved specimen that was collected at least 50 years ago.
    Food in a fridge specifically marked “Not for food storage”

  5. #5 Peter Ellis
    November 8, 2007

    A Gilson pipette with a sticker on it saying “Needs calibrating, use at own risk” or near equivalent. Bonus points if it’s in use.

    Something on wet ice that really should be on dry ice.

    Something on dry ice that should really be on wet ice.

    Something floating in a bucket of water that [i]used[/i] to be ice.

  6. #6 Coin
    November 8, 2007

    – A lab full of computers but containing more macs than otherwise (these days this is how you know you are in the biology department, or in some places the CS department…)

  7. #7 Coturnix
    November 8, 2007

    3 and 5 right now at home; 1, 9 and 11 back in the lab when I was there….

  8. #8 travc
    November 9, 2007

    A piece of equipment older than the lab PI

    Books on philosophy and/or pure math

    A lab or field notebook from someone who has not been in the lab for at least 2 generations (academic generations that is)

    A computer running DOS

    And a few especially hard ones to weed out the pure molecular folks…

    A live animal not bred in a lab

    Feces collected from the field

  9. #9 Jane
    November 11, 2007

    Stuffed animals (and I don’t mean toys)
    Posters for field study in exotic places
    Models of different organs and organisms
    Display of pinned butterflies, fossils, etc.

  10. #10 FR
    November 12, 2007

    In three (actually – four) labs in Russia:

    Live rats and mice. Not Wistar or c57bl, just wild-type brown rats. Not bred in lab!
    Unknown ancient (before 1970) devices. A lot of.
    Chrom-vanadium 30″ crowbar and 1.5 kg hammer.
    Plastic bags over microscope or DNA scaner to protect it from droping water from old ceiling, leaking sewer pipes, collapsed parts of ceiling.
    Some chemicals from 1960-th and even reagents, that had been delivired from Germany at 1945, after WW II.
    Mice embryos in kitchen freezer.
    Some books like ‘Greetings to XVIII congress of USSR Communist Party’
    Poster of 198* calendar.
    Package with sublimated food with US Army label and 1990 date on it.
    Huge EEG-amplifier – 80x120x30cm, with build-in strip chart recorder. Connected to computer. In working condition.

  11. #11 Jonathan Eisen
    November 12, 2007

    1. Starch gel rigs.
    2. Someone making their own glass spreaders for bacterial plating.
    3. Replica plating velvet
    4. A water cooled thermal cycler
    5. A full year of a journal from before the 1950s
    6. Samples from all continents.
    7. Plates or cultures of microbes that are more than 5 years old
    8. Weird stuff growing in solutions not designed for growing.
    9. Solutions made by graduate students who are now tenured professors.
    10. Chemicals bought before World War II.

  12. #12 MissPrism
    November 14, 2007

    A charm, fetish, amulet, talisman or totem placed above or near a PCR machine for good luck.

  13. #13 such.ire
    November 28, 2007

    Wow, I had no idea that some of these things were considered rare or obscure enough for a scavenger hunt. I mean, graduated pyrex pipettes? Doesn’t everyone use them? And replica plating velvet? My lab’s got plenty! And I’ve always seen people making their own glass spreaders….though I inherited mine from the previous graduate student…

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