Vital Signs

Chemicals are kept alive in a laboratory with the life support of a mechanical breathing box.

February 25, 2010

Everyone becomes attuned to specific sounds that are uniquely important to them. Perhaps you’re used to waiting for the thud of the morning paper being tossed onto your front porch. Or maybe you can distinctly tell the sound of your boss’s footstep from everyone else’s, shuffling down the hallway towards your desk. We learn to listen for these sounds and train ourselves to hear them clearly over the backdrop soundtrack of everyday life.

In a chemistry lab, there are many sounds a researcher needs to listen for to ensure the safety and success of their work. For five years I worked in a chemistry lab at the University of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada, and while there I focused on developing new molecules that might someday be put to work making materials and plastics the public could use. Relying on one machine in particular to keep these molecules in good condition, I learned to listen for this machine’s sounds to tell me everything was alright — or to alert me when things were about to go very wrong.


About the Author

Alyson Kenward

Alyson Kenward studied chemistry at the University of Calgary. After five years of trying to keep yellow mixtures from turning orange, she decided it was time to swap her lab coat for a laptop and get down to the business of being a writer of all things science-related. Although she misses how her stir plates used to serenade her, she was happy to recall just how much she loves writing. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the central New Jersey wilderness.


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