I believe there is a strong correlation between researchers and hoarding. We might need to run that sample again someday! Every lab I have worked in has a junk drawer, has a junk shelf, has a junk room or just has junk everywhere! We find we are keeping things that we just don’t need. Often we think we need something, but it is stored improperly, and then it expires. For some reason we keep these items even after they go bad. There needs to be a way to better utilize the storage resources we have to better protect the truly valuable samples and chemicals.
Maybe we should be asking ourselves, why are we keeping things? There are good valid reasons to store materials. For example, expensive, left over chemicals can be kept and used for future projects. Human originated samples are often extraordinarily hard to acquire. With proper inventorying and storage, they can remain valuable and viable samples for many future projects.
Old unrepairable equipment should be disposed of. There is next to zero chance that someone is going to scavenge parts from a broken stir plate, so throw it out. Make room for more valuable and functioning equipment. Many companies offer trade-in deals. Eppendorf will take broken equipment and so will Thermo. They offer incentives such as a credit to an account, or waive the disposal fee
How about a half full waste bottle that hasn’t been touched in 6 months? Tag it out and have hazardous waste come pick it up. We can always start a new waste bottle 3 months from now when a new experiment starts.
When is it just the right time to finally dispose of your samples? The following guide should help you!
- Has the experiment concluded?
- Did the data get published in a journal article?
- Has the project ended?
- Have the samples expired?
For example, you conducted an experiment using an algae culture. The goal for the experiment was to see if feeding your algae cool-aid would cause an increase in protein production. You take a sample every day for 3 weeks. Half of your sample you use to run optical density and dry weight measurements. Then it is stored in the abyss known as the refrigerator probably never to be seen again. The other half is centrifuged, dewatered, and then freeze dried. You then take a protein measurement using a BioRad kit. After testing, you store the algae powder in the freezer. 1 year from now you open the freezer, and find your previously beautiful green powder is a dusty white color. Oxidation has begun on the samples. Looks like we can’t run protein analysis again, our results would likely be very different from a year ago. Oh well, back into the freezer it goes. Yes, the freezer, where good intentions go to die.
Although, just having the algae sample to even find 1 year later is an amazing feat in and of itself. Since this particular sample had no name on it, no date or experiment written on it, it is surprising we even remember what this sample was. “Sample Tf” Yes, that Tf sample sure was memorable. Shame we ran 6 experiments all with Tf samples taken. So much for the value there. Better keep it. Just in case.
If we look at some of the criteria regarding this particular example, I think it would be safe to throw away these samples. By year 2, this project had ended and the paper accepted into a journal. The samples were clearly expired and no longer feasible samples to test. The life span of samples depends greatly on the longevity of the pertinent compounds to be measured.
Biologicals in general tend to have short shelf lives unless cryogenically preserved. Some chemical analysis samples can sit indefinitely if in the right conditions. Samples that are microwave digested in Nitric Acid or Hydrofloric Acid, and are being kept for metals analysis, can be left out at room temperature without precipitation issues or microbial growth contamination.
Know how your samples need to be stored for longevity and then make a concrete plan when you are going to dispose of those samples. This whole thought process should be integral part of your planning phase before your experiment even begins. Which brings us to our next topic…
- Go over your experimental ideas with your PI.
- Identify equipment, space, and chemicals you will be using.
- Stop by my desk to make sure we can accommodate any new equipment or materials.
- New chemicals might have special storage requirements, be mindful of this BEFORE ordering! Some chemicals or compressed gasses will require fire marshal/EH&S approval. If in doubt, contact me first! Nothing is worse than spending a small fortune in grant funding for materials you cannot safety use.
You cannot bring the following into our lab: Hydrofluoric Acid, Perchloric Acid, explosives, pyrophorics, and certain compressed gases.
- Have a plan to dispose of used chemicals and samples when the experiment is completed.
- Make sure there is space for your waste bottles during the experiment and they have proper lids and seals.
- Ask, before your experiment begins, if you need special lids for continuous flow experiments.
- Will you need refrigerator/freezer space? Contact Juan Maldonado Juan.Maldonadoortiz@asu.edu to make arrangements.
- When the experiment ends make sure all of your samples that you intend to keep are labelled and stored properly. If you do not need to store samples, dispose of them.
ALL CONTAINERS MUST BE LABELLED. All of them. Every sample, reagent bottle, vial, carboy, etc. If you have many small vials or containers, clearly labelling the secondary container or freezer box is acceptable.
- YOUR FULL NAME! (not just initials, or first name)
- DATE including the year
- For Chemicals:
- Full Chemical Name (or abbreviation if it is listed on a sheet of paper posted to the bench)
- CAS #, if available.
- Appropriate warnings. Example: Biohazard, flammable, radioactive, etc.
- Your name/project, if not for general use
Fighting the clutter begins with you!