The feeling of total, horrified incredulity is not one that I get to enjoy very often, but this afternoon I had a stiff dose of it. For the past week or so I’ve been working on some tissue samples that have probably seen close to a dozen hours of solid work going into them. Today, I was engaging in the most difficult and skilled job that biologists are trained in – the time honoured art of moving the tissue samples from one container of liquid to another every five minutes for an hour while listening to the radio.

It is the sort of job that, you would think, would be very difficult to screw up. Yet when I placed the first carefully labelled and ordered rack of samples into a jar of alcohol, and stared on in horror as their ink labels mockingly drifted away from the glass slides to form diffuse, unreadable clouds, I reflected upon the utility of an education in chemistry; unsurprisingly, 70% ethanol is strong enough to clean pretty much anything from a glass slide.

In fact, it turns out that there is basically no way of labelling glass slides to survive dipping in strong alcohol. The only solution is to label the racks themselves. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending because I remembered the order of the slides and their racks and can still reconstruct their labels.

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