2514: Lab Equipment

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Lab Equipment
I've been working on chocolate bar annealing techniques to try to produce the perfect laser s'more. Maybe don't mention that on the grant application though.
Title text: I've been working on chocolate bar annealing techniques to try to produce the perfect laser s'more. Maybe don't mention that on the grant application though.

Explanation[edit]

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a NEODYMIUM-DOPED MARSHMALLOW S'MORE- Please change this comment when editing this page. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

This comic claims that in every science lab, there exists some piece of equipment that sticks around less for being useful, and more because the scientists and technicians just think the device is really cool.

The comic presents a laboratory containing equipment for analysis of substances. While giving Cueball a tour of the lab equipment, Ponytail shows a spectrometer — a device that examines light emitted from or passed through samples to fingerprint emission or absorption lines in the mix of light. Next she shows the "Nd:YAG" lasers. It is unknown if the multiple lasers are for redundancy or if they have different specifications and are for different tests. "Nd:YAG" stands for neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet; it is a lasing medium commonly used in lasers. Lastly she shows off a decommissioned laser not used in experiments, but rather for toasting marshmallows.

The claim that such things are almost universal is, in fact, very realistic. When doing any research, especially cutting-edge research, it's often difficult to predict what equipment will be useful or not, so it's inevitable those some things will be purchased, and not turn out to be very effective in their experiments. Some of these things will end up being sold, put into storage, repurposed, or even thrown away, but some equipment is enjoyed by the researchers, despite a lack of official uses, and so will end up being kept around. Researchers, being human, are going to do some things in the lab for their own amusement, rather than because it's part of a formal experiment, and if equipment has already been purchased, keeping it because it's enjoyable is usually overlooked. Additionally, just playing around with high-end equipment can occasionally lead to useful discoveries. Basic research is difficult to plan out, and sometimes just letting scientists play around with powerful equipment can produce unexpected results, which can lead to new scientific understanding.

The title-text mentions that she's using "annealing techniques" to make the perfect s'more. A s'more is a popular treat in the United States and Canada, consisting of one or more toasted marshmallows and a layer of chocolate sandwiched between two pieces of graham cracker. Annealing is more commonly a heat-treatment technique used to influence the nature of the crystals in metals for structural reasons. This is done when jewelry is molded from molten metal, but more likely Randall means a use of annealing in scientific research. Annealing is also used in glass production. This suggests that Ponytail is trying to use lasers and/or other specialized heating equipment to control the melting process of the chocolate, in conjuction with precision toasted marshmallows, to perfect this treat. She points out that this shouldn't be mentioned on the grant application. When labs apply for grants to purchase or upgrade equipment, or to fund research projects, they emphasize the scientific principles that could be advanced (and potential useful products that might be produced) as a result of their research. The idea that researchers might be using the equipment to amuse themselves and work on whimsical side projects would be unlikely to impress the groups offering the grant, even though, as Randall points out, such things are pretty much ubiquitous.

Transcript[edit]

[Ponytail and Cueball are talking to each other. They are standing between two tables with equipment scattered on them, including lens-stands and eye-protection. Ponytail is pointing away from Cueball towards an unidentified off-panel location.]
Ponytail: The spectrometer is over here, the Nd:YAG lasers are over here,
Ponytail: and in the corner is a laser that turned out not to be useful for us, but we keep it because it's fun to toast marshmallows with it.
[Caption below the panel]
Every lab in every field has some piece of equipment like this.


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Discussion

What kind of lasers are used in mass spectroscopy? 172.70.110.173 10:58, 11 September 2021 (UTC)

SFAIK, none. Electron beams can be used, but not sure laser-ablation is a big thing in this subfeld. So I just edited that detail out and added what a plain (i.e. light) spectrometer is. (More likely, this being a laser-lab perhaps making use of novel materials, not a primarily materials-analysis one)
Any actual Laser Lab-Persons reading this might know otherwise, of course, if they can stop melting things for fun and bother to explain things to us... 162.158.158.88 18:09, 11 September 2021 (UTC)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matrix-assisted_laser_desorption/ionization#Laser I don't know any other uses for lasers in mass spectroscopy, but MALDI (Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization) is commonly used in biochemistry and polymer chemistry (and chemistry of any other fragile macromolecule) to ionize molecules in the sample without breaking (fragmenting) them. It is called a "soft" ionization method due to it's propensity to leave the ions in one piece - something shared with ElectroSpray Ionization (ESI), which is commonly used for same purposes, but doesn't use lasers. 162.158.88.21 20:15, 11 September 2021 (UTC)
So, yeah, your link says that lasers are used for ionization (I think of large molecules?) prior to mass spectrometry. The information removal would have been in error. 108.162.219.123 20:59, 11 September 2021 (UTC) (addendum:unless mass spectrometers don't look like the drawing?)
Why are we even assuming "mass spectroscopy" when it's just a "spectrometer" mention, in the context of laser-light research? If it's not the obvious (to me) application, it could be one of many other disparate developments. 141.101.107.247 21:52, 11 September 2021 (UTC)
Sorry, that was my fault, I was the one who put "mass spectrometer." This is why we have multiple editors.172.69.22.13 00:39, 12 September 2021 (UTC)

This could have been my lab in the late 1980's. We used a Nd:YAG laser as a light source for Raman Spectroscopy with a stepper motor controlled diffraction grating spectrometer (I think that was what it was called - was over thirty years ago) controlled via a GPIB (IEEE-488) bus by an Apricot PC running custom APL code (don't ask). One issue was that as it was an IR beam it had its own black painted room that was closed before a spectrum was run (took I think maybe half an hour). Dhericean (talk) 09:14, 14 September 2021 (UTC)

Annealing and Tempering[edit]

Annealing and tempering are used in wider contexts than chocolate and glass, specifically both copper and iron can be annealed and tempered (and most of their alloys). for more information a good place to start is a knife making video where you anneal the knife and then harden just the edge before final sharpening.108.162.221.191 18:09, 12 September 2021 (UTC)

I don't even know where the glass thing came from. I thought a perfectly good link to annealing (definitely including metal, it even says this in the bit I wrote) might be over-explaining what might be related to chocolate tempering, and then suddenly we're talking about glass which is far more complicated (just ask Prince Rupert). But that's amorphous solids for you, right..? 141.101.107.115 23:14, 12 September 2021 (UTC)
If you have an example of annealing in scientific research then give one, otherwise the phrase "but more likely Randall means a use of annealing in scientific research" sounds like you are speculating about the existence of annealing in scientific research. 172.70.82.111 01:18, 14 September 2021 (UTC)
That was added by(/after?) the jewelry comment-adder, not the initial annealing reference that I (being the above IP, etc) made. I thought that was distracting too (I didn't think that its use in jewelry added anything to the fact that it was a (general) metal-treatment) but if I was to complain about everything added/changed by people other than me I should at least get myself a named-login to build up a reputation for being a grumpy old man about everyone else 'spoiling' things. (And, honestly, I like the actual improvements/corrections that others do, but there's even less reason to wax lyrical about those...) Right, no more from me, at least here on this commentary. Have fun, y'all... 162.158.89.228 19:07, 14 September 2021 (UTC)

Cloudflare[edit]

This is new:

This page (https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php?title=2514:_Lab_Equipment&action=submit) is currently offline. However, because the site uses Cloudflare's Always Online™ technology you can continue to surf a snapshot of the site. We will keep checking in the background and, as soon as the site comes back, you will automatically be served the live version. Always Online™ is powered by Cloudflare | Hide this Alert

...popover on the page. Didn't seem to stop me editing/previewing. Is it in response from all the (other) Cloudflare errors we've been getting recently, someone activiting a safety-net? 162.158.158.88 18:09, 11 September 2021 (UTC)