Saturday, April 14, 2012

Posed Science - LC/MS Edition

When you buy a lab instrument, do you read the manual first? Or, do you just unpack the thing and try to figure out what connects to what? 

"I'm so good at this, I don't even need to look!"
Credit: Thermo
Many regular JLC readers have trekked with me down the road of sourcing, pricing, set-up, and installation of a new (used) LC/MS - liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry, a method to tell what's going on in a chemical reaction using molecular mass and retention times. Though the units aren't much bigger than a microwave oven, they're fairly complex and full of intricate, delicate (read: breakable), expensive parts.

The past few weeks have been whirlwinds: late nights with engineers, software downloads, cable swaps, and last-minute orders for critical components. We're finally installed now, so I look forward to 10-20 years of "problem-free" operation (Note: Insert audience laugh track / rim-shot here).

"Manual reads: Hold button for ten minutes."
Credit: Agilent
Trying to catch any last-minute issues, I looked over the User Manuals for both the HPLC and MS instruments...and that's when I saw the pictures. Equipment companies realize that, like car dealers or computer salesmen, "action shots" of people interacting with the product motivate customer purchasing. Theory goes that you'll vicariously insert yourself into the scene, so you can be the one driving that Toyota or typing on that iPad

Here's two pictures, one from a Thermo guidebook, the other courtesy of Agilent. Note the lack of goggles, or attention to what's actually going on - one scientist pipets without looking, while the other seems to be mashing the "." key on the LC Gameboy

Not that either 'researcher' really far as I can tell, their instruments aren't even on! The LEDs that show system activity aren't lit, and the solvent hoses don't seem to be hooked up. Perhaps too much scientific content ruins the photo shoot.


  1. The small time instrument mfr. I work for doesn't use posed people in their marketing photos, but the instruments are not hooked up. If they were, you would see a tangle of tubing running everywhere. Even at Pittcon, the system is not tubed up.

  2. There's an article to be written about the point at which actions shots of scientific instrument usage went from males to females. I'm guessing it was the mid-80s, but I dunno.

    Where's the last 30 years of C&EN when you need them?

  3. Locked up in the "Archive," I suppose. I would check for you, but last time I tried to dredge up an article from there, I was locked out...

  4. The scientist executing the no-look transfer via pipet looks pensive to me- maybe she's dreaming of a new Orbitrap from Thermo.

  5. Building off of See Arr Oh's caption, I believe that the model's expression conveys, "Aw yeah, biznitches! That's how you aliquot with a multi-channel pipette!"