Tagged: AFM

Are lab instruments male or female?


If you are reading this as first post of the blog you should know something: nothing is serious on this blog. No, not even this post. This is just for fun and mainly based of maybe-true-maybe-not stereotypes.



Some topics connect all the labs in the world: the hate for alumina columns, the crappy university food, the mysterious ghost that steal clean NMR tubes, and naturally “are instruments male or female?”


It may be sounds a trivial question, but it is definitely not. After spending so much time working on a single instrument you start talking with him/her. Having a proper discussion with your instrument can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful experiment. You need to talk with the instrument, understand him/her, hug the instrument, caress and comfort him/her. “There there, don’t worry, here the new solvent my dear” 


So, are the instruments in your lab male or female?



Male: He’s usually huge, not only the physical part, but his ego is expanding well behind his metallic shield. Usually traffic cones or yellow tape are used for outline his impressive ego.

He’s mono-thematic, ask him to do a 1H or a 13C and there will be no problem, ask to go for a 31P or a 15N and then he needs to change his mind, reflect a little bit and maybe, and only maybe, he will do it.

Female: She is still huge, but shiny and nice. Can destroy your credit cards in matter of seconds. Sometimes needs a lot of tuning foreplay before starting the measurement. It’s so hot you need liquid nitrogen to cool her down. 



Male: He has a tip. Repetitive movement of the tip. I’m not going to add anything else here.

Female: She is oversensitive. No matters what, sooner or later she will go crazy for the minimum movement or sound you will do in the room. It’s like having a discussion with your lovely half, you will always end up saying something wrong. On the other hand, when she is in good mood she will give you beautiful pictures.



Male: He is repetitive, injecting the same stuff time after time after time after time…. Annoying.

Female: Her thermal sensitivity is impressive “It’s hot in here, no, now is going to be back to normal, now I’m ok, oh no, now is hot again…. Wait, now is going better….” And so on… Forever.


UV-Vis / Fluorescence:

Male: Usually his software is extremely old. Bad memory: “did I record the blank? I don’t remember, do you?” 

Female: The software is far far away to be linear. Millions of sub menu, boxes to check or uncheck depending mainly by her mood.



Male: He can resist quite a lot of over pressure. Noisy, that kind of repetitive noise that can drive you crazy in few hours. Just stop talking. Just stop. Please.

Female: She is moody as well. Sometimes perfect separation other time a single huge peak. If too much pressure is applied she will start crying, spraying solvents everywhere. Requires daily care.



Male: Dude, I can measure from 1mg to 150g. Something outside that range it is not my damn business.

Female: Make up your mind once for all: “it’s 1.56g…. no 1.55g…. no, no, wait… 1.54g… yes, i’m sure about it…. 1.57g, this is the correct one, trust me….. 1.55g”. Make up you mind!!!


Ultrasonic bath:

Male: Sensitivity? Not his best point. Throw something at him and he will destroy it.

Female: That noise that pass trough your skull directly to your brain. 


That super old instrument that is still working:

Male: He is way older than you, sometimes you just want to drink a whiskey with him sharing good old stories from the lab.

Female: She is the grandmother you never had, you cover her with a warm blanket during the cold winter. 

So, are your instruments male or female? Let’s check it out #MFInstruments 

A chat with the AFM

Have you ever talked with you reaction, products or the instrument you are using? Sometimes they talk back to you:

IMG 1915


Me: hello my dear AFM, how is going today?
AFM: same ol’, same ol’. Reflecting laser here, reflecting laser there.
Me: what about trying this surface today?
AFM: why not? Nothing better to do today.
Me: perfect, shall we start then?
AFM: sure, first of all remove my head, take the tip holder and put a new tip in that bastard. I love fresh tips.
Me: roger, where are the tips?
AFM: right there, on the bench.
Me: there are only a coin, the holder and the tweezer…
AFM: come on, I can see the tip from here.
Me: do you mean this super small thing down here?
AFM: yeaaaa.

IMG 1941

Me: You gotta be kidding me….
AFM: come on, put it in.
Me: uhmmm ok, I’ll try.
AFM: do it or do it not, there is no try…..
Me: ok, I’ll do it!
AFM: oh and do not touch the surface of the cantilever.
Me: ok
AFM: and do not destroy the tip with the tweezer…
Me: ok
AFM: and do not press too much the tweezer….
Me: ok
AFM: and naturally do not let the tip touch any surface…
Me: Come on for God sake, how the hell I’m supposed to put it in if I cannot ever touch it?????? 
AFM: use the force Luke, use the force
Me: tze’, R2D2 would have been way better than you.
AFM: Say it again and I’ll self destroy. I want to see R2D2 measuring your sample….
Me: ok, ok, sorry, don’t be so sensitive.

Sweating like a bomb squad agent in the last 3 seconds before the detonation I manage to fit the tip in the holder.

 Me: done, now what?
AFM: now it’s going to be easy. First of all align the laser on the cantilever. Be my guest and use the microscope on the top.
Me: good, but I cannot see the laser spot.
AFM: well move the two screws until you find it.

Finding the laser spot with a microscope is like looking for an apple seed in a football field (whatever football means for you)

Me slightly tired: ok, done.
AFM: perfect, now just align the mirror.
Me: do you mean other random screwing?
AFM: yep
Me: oh dear Lord of microscopy. 

15 minutes and few blasphemy later

Me: done
AFM: perfect, we are almost there. Now down the tip close to the surface. DO NOT TOUCH THE SURFACE. Remember if you touch the surface you start again. Have you ever played “operation”? It’s a kind of that game. Little bit more expensive though….

And this is the reason why I’m doing chemistry and not surgery

Me: I think the tip is close enough to the surface.
AFM: well, then press “approach”

bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…. 30 min later……

AFM: close enough my ass… 
Me: ok, ok, so probably was not that close, but come on, I don’t want to crash the tip
Me: mocked by an instrument… done!
AFM: ok, sorry that was rude. Now that the tip is on the surface let’s start.
AFM: AH AH| you said it loud, now we should start again.
AFM: yes I’m quite sensitive to any kind of vibration.
Me: ok, I’ll try to be quite.

IMG 1939

Me: relax buddy, relax. Maybe it’s just a single spot. Let’s try to move the tip a little bit.

IMG 1935

Me: oh, finally something nice… Hey what the hell are you doing? Why are those things stripy??? WHAT THE??
AFM: relax buddy, relax…. How do you feel now? How do you feel? DO NOT SAY RELAX TO ME! NEVER AGAIN!
Me: look, I was just trying to be polite with you, and helping with your clearly oversensitive crazy mood
Me: can we please discuss later about it. Can we please take at least one single good micrograph today? Can we?
AFM: only because I have nothing better to do today. BUT I STILL HATE YOU!
Me: fine, I’ll bring you out for dinner tonight.
AFM: fine, let’s try another spot. 
Me: fine.
Me: you are impossible. 

IMG 1934

Me: seriously? I was not breathing for 1.30h and that’s it? What the hell are those falling star-nanoparticles??? I swear I didn’t move. WHAT THE HELL?? DO YOU READ ME???
AFM: Affirmative Dave. I read you.
Me: can you please explain me why you are doing this to me?
AFM: I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
Me: Are just some nanoparticle on a surface, how hard can it be????
AFM: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.

Finale 1:
Screaming blasphemy walking in the corridor. 
Me: It’s not over. I’ll be back tomorrow, and then we will see….. We will see. MUHWAHWHAWHAWHWHAHW (evil laughter)

Director’s cut:
Someone found my body three days later. Apparently no sign of fight. The autopsy didn’t find anything significant and the case was closed as death by natural causes. A small red light shine from the AFM room. A small red led. From the AFM. A small red led.