The other day I read an interview with an actress from one of the many popular television shows about zombies. I cannot claim to have followed any of these shows very closely, but a particular comment caught my attention. When the actress was asked if she would be prepared to confront a zombie uprising in real life, she answered with a resounding, “Yes!”
So, I immediately started thinking that there are many thousands of other fellow analytical chemists out there (let’s not worry about organic chemists or others at this point — we can use them to buy ourselves time) who probably have not considered what they would do if faced with a zombie invasion in their workplace. I subsequently felt compelled to come up with some ideas about how to use the resources we have available around us and be more prepared should the inevitable happen. After all, Halloween is approaching.
Before we begin with specific recommendations, let’s consider some general ones. You are working after dusk in the lab, and you see or hear some zombie activity in the hall. I think one of the first things to assess is whether you are dealing with zombies of the 28 Days Later or Zombieland flavor (that is, they are fast) or the slower Night of the Living Dead or Shaun of the Dead variety. One way to differentiate them is to assess whether they are twitching or vomiting on the door with high frequency (these are probably the fast kind) or if they are exhibiting more of a low moan, stiff-legged, and arms-extended-out-in-front-of-them demeanor (these are probably the slower kind). Obviously, your choice of weapon and time for creativity will depend on your predicament. Also, even if one of the zombies is one of your close coworkers, students, or — heaven-forbid! — bosses or professors, do not be sympathetic. Literature and documentation indicate that zombies are only interested in eating your brains. Of course, verify that there is a genuine threat. My kids have practiced their zombie imitations extensively, and they are pretty good — especially the 3 year old. You do not want to act prematurely if one of your coworkers is simply playing a joke and acting like a zombie. In all seriousness, this could be grounds for filing a grievance with your supervisor, given the gravity of the offense. Zombie attacks are nothing to joke about.
The best thing you can do is use the tools that you have around you. Remember that you generally want to strike for the head. If you lop off an arm, the rest of the zombie and possibly the arm itself will continue to come after you. So take the time now to look around your laboratory and plan ahead. Here are some specific recommendations to consider:
- Glassware, especially 500-mL beakers and flasks (or larger ones): You probably have a lot of ammo here and a lucky shot with a glass shard to the head could be just what you need. If you are lucky enough to have a solid-phase extraction manifold, these are made of particularly heavy glass and could be used to inflict massive trauma to a zombie’s brain.
- Preparative or semipreparative HPLC columns: You knew there was a good reason to hang on to those dead columns. Even a large number of dead analytical-scale columns could be used for distance attacks, but a good prep-scale column would be great for hand-to-hand battles.
- The tool box: You never had a chance to use that claw hammer to fix your mass spectrometer. Here is a more practical reason to keep it handy. Do not let your coworkers give you grief for storing the hammer in your cubicle (or even on your person). Be prepared!
- Be careful about turning to the flammable cabinet. While a 4-L bottle of HPLC-grade methanol might seem like a good way to create the perfect Molotov cocktail, you might quickly find yourself facing a flaming zombie. If you choose this approach, make sure you have the fire extinguisher close by and are wearing appropriate personal safety equipment. If the zombie keeps coming you can put out the fire and then use the extinguisher as a club.
- Spectroscopists, remember that sunlight kills zombies. While I doubt there have been any systematic investigations of what specific UV–vis wavelengths are most effective, it might be wise to keep a set of deuterium and tungsten lamps on hand, ready to be connected to power and illuminated. If you are lucky enough to be set upon by the slower zombies, you might have time to incorporate a monochromator and conduct some wavelength-scanning experiments. I’d bet you could get a study like that into Science or Nature.
- Laser spectroscopists might consider the effect of focused, high-power beams of coherent radiation, but be wary of limitations in available wavelengths if no one has yet performed the study above.
- Those running UHPLC at really high pressures might consider setting some traps. Some loosely connected PEEK fittings could be rigged as projectiles to strike unsuspecting zombies as they pass by the instrument.
- If you are facing faster zombies, you might be able to slow them down by opening the oil drain valves on any vacuum rough pumps you have around the lab. A zombie flailing around on the floor is an easier target for glassware or HPLC column projectiles.
- Always remember to wear your safety glasses, and even consider a face shield: The chances for splatter, and potential infection, with many of these actions are high. Safety first!
There are probably other possibilities, but that is not the point. All labs have different resources, and you need to be prepared. Do not forget about company policy. In the event of a zombie attack, do not forget to first contact campus police (or company security), your supervisor (unless he or she is one of the zombies you faced), and Environmental Health and Safety (or your company safety officer) to notify them of the incident. If you have the opportunity, collect and send me some zombie blood or goo. I would be interested to evaluate the protein, lipid, and salt content of this sample matrix in case some future work on zombie biomonitoring becomes a possibility.
I hope that this brief survival guide gives you some ideas to help keep you safe. If you have any other recommendations, please feel free to share. There is only a little time before Halloween is upon us.
Previous blog entries from Kevin Schug:
The LCGC Blog: From HPLC to LC-MS-Mobile-Phase Composition is the Main Consideration
The LCGC Blog: An Excel Tutorial for Modeling Chromatographic Separations
The LCGC Blog: A Closer Look at Temperature Programming in Gas Chromatography
The LCGC Blog: Back to Basics: The Role of Thermodynamics in Chromatographic Separations
The LCGC Blog: The Dimensionality of Separations: Mass Spectrometry Is Separation Science
The LCGC Blog: What Can Analytical Chemists Do for Chemical Oceanographers, and Vice Versa?
The LCGC Blog: Do Not Forget to Assess Potential Matrix Effects in Your LC-ESI-MS Trace Quantitative Analysis Method from Biological Fluids
The LCGC Blog: Derivatization
Restricted-Access Media for Biomonitoring Applications: A Solution That Deserves More Attention