Date Tags lab

So, this is a new fun one. As I need to get my butt back out in the field again, having used all of the silica beads in previous trips (between Brandon and I) to keep our needles dry, we were faced with two obvious choices: buy new or reuse. Being the thrifty scientists that we are (hey, we are supported by the NSF, after all), you can probably guess which way we went. Plus, silica is darn expensive, and we’d much rather spend our lab money on more critical supplies (beer).

For those unfamiliar with the awesomeness of silica beads, we buy them in bulk with an indicator: OITND (Orange is the New Dry). Actually, no one actually knows what the chemical is (lies!), but when it’s wet, it loses it’s color. Good enough for us.

When you put pine needles into 15 ml tubes containing about 6 ml of gel beads, it’s only a matter of time, due to continued transpiration, that they will get fully hydrated. This is great; they’ve done their job, but using beads only once is hugely expensive ($350.00 for 55 lbs). Hence, the re-dry.

It goes without saying that having a great undergrad in the lab who can take tasks and run with them, makes getting dry beads a snap for high-end postdocs like myself (snicker). Alice did a great job of getting this working efficiently, so I wanted to share it with you, all three of you (including my parents) who read this blog.

It goes a little something like this:

  1. Remove the beads from current tubes and pour them into something convenient to store them before drying

  2. Get a 13x9x2 Pyrex baking dish

  3. Pour (carefully, as they get bouncy) a nice single layer of beads

  4. Set your microwave to medium (our setting is 5/10, but YMMV)

  5. Cook the beads for 3 minutes

  6. Take out and give a good stir. We use a technical piece of equipment designed for stirring, like a ruler. (Note: be careful, the beads get wicked hot!). Some sticking is normal, but be careful. If they get too hot and burn, they are ruined.

  7. Cook for another 3 minutes on medium

  8. Stir again (see above)

  9. Go another minute if necessary (we do, but again, YMMV).

If all goes right, you should have a nice, orange, ready-to-go set of beads. All that’s left to do is put them into new tubes and organize them (into sets of 5, in my case). If your undergrad is as good as Alice, you can get about 50 lbs of silica dried and put into 100 groups of 5 in about a day.

—Chris