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iLabs: Visitor Question — PLEASE Ask Questions

July 9, 2012

Just a quick one today – we had a very observant visitor who noticed the microwave sitting on the back counter of the Micro World Lab. He apologized for asking what he thought was a stupid question, but wanted to know why we had a microwave in the lab.

The first thing I will say to everyone is that there is no stupid question. If one person has that question, chances are, so do others. And we don’t always realize just what another finds interesting or fascinating.

Furthermore we LOVE people’s questions.  It gives us a chance to visit with you and talk about something we love ! 🙂  If we don’t know the answer it gives us an excuse to go info hunting, and we learn something new. And anytime you ask a question and we have to hunt down an answer, watch this blog — we post the questions and answers.

Getting back to the microwave question:

A microwave is a safe and effective way to heat things, melt things, dissolve salts and other solids in a solution.  Two recent examples I can think of off the top of my head:

1) We have used our microwave to heat up buffer solution we mix with our agarose powder, when making gels for DNA electrophoresis tests. The heating helps the powder dissolve and go into solution completely. For some simple explanations of this, click here. For an in depth explanation of the whole process, here’s a link from Wikipedia. To see someone making the agarose and pouring the gel, here is a video from Carolina Biological:

2) We’ve melted solid bottles of agar in the microwave until it is liquified enough to pour the agar into petri dishes for our bacteria classes. Here’s a helpful video by labtricks.com :

In both of these instances, the microwave was faster, safer and more easy to control than a water bath or a Bunsen burner (and by the way, we do not have any gas outlets in the lab, so, no Bunsen burners).

And for the record, we stand by the sign on the door of the microwave that says “Not for Use With Food.”  In proper lab protocol, only lab items go into that microwave.

Visitors, thank you for your questions. Keep them coming, and if you have any questions out there, you can always add a comment to one of our blog posts and ask your question. Or send them to debra.bailey@ncdenr.gov

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