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The Tweety Bird Method

The Tweety Bird Method
This Tweety Bird magnet may not be a high-tech piece of equipment, but it sure came in handy!

Most laboratories are full of really impressive technology. The lab I’m working in is no exception - it’s full of tools and machines that make the science that we do every day possible. However, some of the tools that I’ve wound up using aren’t exactly what most people would think of as “scientific”.

A photo of a lab bench containing different pieces of traditional scientific equipment
These are some high-tech scientific devices that you would normally see in a molecular biology lab

Part of what I do in lab to get ready for DNA extractions (more on what this means at a later date!) requires breaking leaves into super tiny pieces. One way of doing this involves putting leaf bits in a plastic tube with metal beads and some soapy liquid called buffer. This tube is put into one of the cool machines - it shakes the tube really fast so that the beads beat up and break down the leaf. When I take the tube out of the machine, I’m left with a leaf smoothie.

 

This works really well, but there’s one major problem: if the beads are left in the pretty green leaf smoothie, it all starts to turn an ugly shade of brown. Now I don’t know about you, but I think a green smoothie is FAR more appetizing than a brown one. Not to mention that the brown isn’t so good for my experiments… So I had to figure out how to get the smoothie and the beads apart in as little time as possible without losing my precious leaf smoothie in the process. Pouring the smoothie out took too long, and trying to pull the beads out with tweezers was too tricky and slow in the narrow tube. So what to do?

 

On the left, an image of a green leaf smoothie and on a right, a smoothie that has browned
I poured some leaf smoothies into these weigh boats so the color difference is easy to see. The one on the left is a green leaf smoothie; the one on the right still has the beads in it and has turned brown.

Remember how I said the beads were metal? A lot of metal is magnetic, so I thought maybe that could help me. I started looking around the lab for a magnet frantically because time was ticking and my smoothies were about to turn brown. Right next to me, stuck to a metal cabinet was a Tweety Bird magnet. Perfect! I put the Tweety Bird on top of the tube like a lid, turned it upside down just long enough for the beads to fall to the magnet, and turned the tube right side up again. When I carefully pulled Tweety Bird off of the top of the tube, the beads stayed attached to the magnet! This Tweety Bird Method lets me get the beads out almost immediately, and practically no smoothie is lost along the way.

A magnet in the shape of Tweety Bird stuck on the side of a cabinet
This Tweety Bird magnet saved the day!

I have since found a stronger magnet that works better and faster than the Tweety Bird magnet, but I’m still using the Tweety Bird Method to stop my leaf smoothies from turning brown. There’s no doubt that high-tech scientific equipment is very important, but scientific equipment comes in many shapes and sizes - sometimes that shape just happens to look like a friendly yellow bird.