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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 16, 2009

The Equipment Graveyard

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Posted by Derek

The comment that showed up recently about unearthing an "original Cable and Wireless dephilostagenator" in a lab reminded me of the huge lab moving job I was in on some years ago. We were packing up the entire company's research site and moving it to another spot in New Jersey (Bloomfield to Kenilworth), and this was supposedly the biggest moving job in the US that year. I do know that the Garden State Parkway was used for the parade of 18-wheel trucks at like 3 AM several times, by special arrangement with the state. (You normally can't take trucks on the thing; that's for the Jersey Turnpike, which doesn't go anywhere real close to Kenilworth).

At any rate, as we started clearing things out, there were several layers of equipment. First were the things that we'd either ordered or had used fairly recently - fine. Behind that, or in the less traveled cabinets, were things that we recognized, but (in many cases) didn't even know that we had. Finally, we began to unearth things that we hardly even knew the names of. I remember finding a dropping mercury electrode apparatus down our way; it's still the only one I've ever seen. It had that solid, black-enameled 1952 look to it, with the name of the company written in silver script lettering on the side, "Dyno-Electromat" or something of the sort. It reminded me somehow of those solid old electromechanical adding machines.

That one was only going to find a home in a museum or in a hazardous waste collection dumpster, and you can guess which alternative won out. But when a site shuts down or moves, there are generally large piles of perfectly usable equipment left sitting around, and it finds its way out into the market one way or another. Courtesy of another commentator, here are some folks from Yale digging through stuff that I might have leaned up against at some point. . .

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Drug Industry History | Life in the Drug Labs


1. MiddleO'Nowhere on March 16, 2009 9:04 AM writes...

When I was taking a pchem lab, we had an hour or so to kill while an experiment ran. We started going through the drawers and cabinets and found a few interesting items. The first was an Beckman pH meter. I believe it was the model G ( as it was in a nice wooden case with that characteristic black finish (plastic in this case). It even had the original glass electrodes still in their boxes. I think they were even still wrapped in paper.
We also found a 1950s era Wheatstone bridge. Nicely finished wood, black blastic, and gold script lettering for the name.

All very pretty.

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2. anon on March 16, 2009 9:32 AM writes...

2 million dollars worth of stuff for 100 million dollars, plus ten acres per employee?


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3. CMC Guy on March 16, 2009 10:04 AM writes...

Before trashing anything it should be put up on e-bay as imagine there are others like me whose home office decor is "old lab oddities" (to my wife's chagrin). The best source for these "antiques" is likely University labs/stock rooms that inherit stuff no one wants (or knows what it is) when a profs (finally) retire (I have a couple on my shelf in that category).

At the same time I worked in a few places where old equipment was still used because the modern replacement instruments where prone to regular (and expense) break downs or just did not perform well in comparison.

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4. processchemist on March 16, 2009 10:24 AM writes...

"At the same time I worked in a few places where old equipment was still used because the modern replacement instruments where prone to regular (and expense) break downs "

Same for me. We have a neslab circulator about 20 years old, bought at a site shutdown. It's still the first choice for heavy duty tasks in the lab.
NONE of the newer chillers (from small to medium size) has his (clean!) repair logbook.

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5. Anonymous on March 16, 2009 11:15 AM writes...

That reminds me, when I was in grad school at Illinois a few years ago they threw out all of the perfectly good Spec-20 UV-vis instruments from the undergrad gen chem lab and replaced them with these fancy computer-interfaced ones that constantly refused to work during labs. I had to TA one of those labs - the day we did the UV-vis experiment was a nightmare; half the kids' instruments didn't work right. At least I was able to rescue a Spec-20 from the trash; it's in my attic right now.

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6. Rhenium on March 16, 2009 11:32 AM writes...

I remember once finding a near mint turboencabulator, but it was missing a differential girdlespring so we couldn't use it.

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7. Harry on March 16, 2009 2:09 PM writes...

Too bad you didn't know that the third stage impeller feedback eccentric return spring on a 1952 Acme Illudium Q-32 Space Modulator is a near-perfect replacement for the differential girdlespring on a turboencabulator...unless you have the 1949 version.

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8. Jose on March 16, 2009 4:56 PM writes...

This discussion reminds me of the Curta pocket calculator- stunning, solid, robust, pre-electronics....

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9. Hap on March 16, 2009 5:52 PM writes...

That stretch of the GSP is where my parents used to drive us to my grandma's house in Bloomfield. How did they manage to get trucks underneath the arches of some of the overpasses?

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10. Harry on March 16, 2009 6:33 PM writes...

Hmmm- that pocket calculator is interesting. I came across my old log-log decitrig slide rule the other day when I was cleaning out a cabinet. Amazing that after over 30 years, I still remembered how to use it!

My class in college was actually the last in the Engineering school to have to take a slide rule class. Makes me feel old.

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11. stuff on March 17, 2009 6:47 AM writes...

You could also contact the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. They collect old equipment and are looking for items to add to teh collection.

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12. Joseph Cerro on March 17, 2009 12:28 PM writes...

Another worthy destination for surplus/discarded equipment is Seeding Labs, which "reclaims and refurbishes laboratory equipment from universities, hospitals and biotechnology companies in order to equip talented scientists and clinicians living and working in the developing world."

More info at

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13. Anonymous BMS Researcher on March 17, 2009 8:46 PM writes...

I grad school the uppermost shelves in the labs had some REALLY old stuff that had been sitting there for a lot longer than the building where I currently work has existed.

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