I spend a large chunk of time at sea preparing to wait. Everything is done far in advance so that, given all circumstances, you’re ready to go to work. The lab spaces and apparatuses are set-up, instruments are tuned and tweaked, bottles and sample vials are capped and labeled. Since you may have only one shot at your work, wasting time on cleaning bottles or making solutions is not an option, especially when the expedition will account for a quarter of your PhD thesis.
In fact, all of our preparations begin far in advance of leaving port. My lab mate and I spent the better part of 2 months preparing for this expedition. We ran preliminary experiments to optimize our protocols, we spent weeks upon weeks cleaning, ordering, fastening, gluing, adding sparkles and pipe cleaners to damn near everything, etc. Invariably, this results in free time spent waiting to work – many sleep during the first few days, others watch movies, and a few keeners read and write about science.
Interestingly, the last two days have been the most relaxing days of the past two months. We’ve been hurrying along only to wait the past few days to get to our first station. This will change tomorrow morning when, around 4am, we begin sampling for our first big few days if experimental work. With this in mind, I thought I’d give you an idea of what my work space looks like. Please, grab a peppermint tea and a slice of freshly baked banana walnut bread from the galley and pull up a chair:
We’re in a portable shipping container-turned laboratory. It’s equipped with all the essential amenities of a land-based lab: bench tops, fresh water, fridge/freezer, fume hood, windows:
We’ve made a few of our own modifications/additions to the space. A class 100 laminar flow hood (back left) provides a particle free environment in which to manipulate our samples. We have two filtering stations, one for labeled seawater (i.e. with radioisotopes), and the other for “cold” seawater (i.e. unlabeled). Not pictured is a computer/instrument set-up behind me used to measure a variety of photosynthetic parameters of the algae that we sample.
I began writing this post about 10 hours ago, but was pulled away by meetings, food, and beautiful scenery. Now that my hurry to wait is almost over (well, I get to sleep for 6 hours, eat breakfast, and then start a 24h work day), I feel an odd mixture of anxiety and calmness. Until tomorrow!