Magic Week and Crystal Faeries

REPOST: This was first posted in December 2012 but seems appropriate to revisit now!


There is something special about the lab over the Christmas holidays. There are myths about experiments miraculously starting to work after many months of trying, things falling into place or suddenly making sense.
Last Christmas I had the misfortune of scheduling a drug release study for late December – early January. That tied me into tending my precious bottles, rotating at 75 rpm and warming to 37 degC every few hours for the first day or two, then every day and eventually every second day. In a fit of uncharacteristically good planning, I managed to organize myself sufficiently well so that I didn’t have to take samples on Christmas Day, but there is photographic evidence of my Christmas Eve efforts. Of course, those experiments worked particularly well, the drug release curves were quite tidy and the error bars satisfyingly small. More to the point, those were the first experiments that had ‘really’ worked.
One November during my PhD I had decided that I needed a decent break. Christmas with all of its fraught travel and frantic family festivities was just not a good enough break. With that in mind I set up a number of small experiments to sit and stir in my absence, and took a month off. It was quite nice to think of work and smile at the thought that things were brewing in my absence. And brewing they were because that long Christmas vacation enabled the Crystal Faeries to pay a visit to my corner of the lab, and sprinkle beautiful crystals in many of my pots. When you work with things like silsesquioxanes that can take up to 3 months to form and perhaps crystallize, coming back after a month off to find shiny grains of research results is like a dream come true.
Before you ask, it wasn’t just me. Other PhD students reported similar rewards for festive efforts in the lab. It makes me wonder what I should get up to at work tomorrow. Should I spend the time tidying up and tackling the remaining few tasks of this semester’s teaching? Or should I head off into the lab and see if I can find that magic touch?

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