Monday, December 11, 2006

Excellent Buildings and Strange Experiments

The building where I work was designed by a Mr. Famous Architect Guy. As far as I can tell, he didn’t ask any scientists first. We hate it.

Aside from the usual problems (hot in winter, cold in summer, leaking basement, elevators programmed by monkeys), we’ve got a few special ones. For one, bats come roost in lab; screaming inevitably ensues. But my favorite ever is the fire alarm: it tells us weekly to WHIRR BEEP BEEP STAND BY FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS BEEP WHIRR. We shut the doors and ignore it, on the grounds that it’s an idiotic announcement. Safe, no? Speaking of, Safety gets very upset if we leave a single razor blade out, but not if we store nitric acid next to acetone. Er?

And this is at a rich school. My college chemistry building was even worse. My advisor sat in a lawn chair and watched for days, when they finally demolished it.

And, from the Annals of Strange Experiments: A distinguished professor (i.e., old) was telling Mr. Scientist that back in the day, someone did do bat experiments in the building. (Maybe that’s where they came from). They were studying how bats ‘see’ things. So they built a bat sensory deprivation chamber: a little room covered everywhere with long, luxurious, white fake fur. Like a really weird bat boudoir.

Bats freaked way the heck out, inside: it felt like they were in the middle of the biggest-ever Nothing.

Bonus: Check out this excellent picture of an exploded, burnt-out centrifuge (via here).

I once exploded a centrifuge, but it was less dramatic. Plus, it wasn't my fault.


  1. Bats aren't worth screaming over. I don't think a single species of bat in your area has teeth big enough to break the skin even if it tried to bite (which they don't). People surely do have strong visceral reactions to bats though. It sounds like a good opportunity for educating.

    I rescued a little brown bat from a mens floor in a college dorm after the frightened little boys called Public Safety to come and kill it. Bats are very cute. The bat sensory deprivation chamber sounds great.

  2. Anonymous8:35 PM

    Someone wanted to kill the bat?! Horrid people. My best friend in grad school studied bats and so she was always called when a bat inevitably found its way through some duct or other into the hallway or a lab. She used to give bat walks for the community and faculty kids and stuff. They were great! My husband I got totally hooked and now we have a bat detector.

    WHY are biology buildings always so terrible?! My grad school one was the most hideous thing ever, and this at So sad...

  3. It's always our tech screaming. I don't know why she screams either; it frightens the bats, poor things. And killing one? How awful!

    A bat detector?!?! This is totally the next thing my in-laws can get me instead of pink cardigans.

    When I first read 'bat walks' I thought, how do you walk a bat? Such a great picture.

    My theory on hideous buildings is that the science department's budget always goes to materials rather than facilities. The law school here is gorgeous. Their only equipment is copy machines and projectors. QED.


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