The big brother I never had
Early yesterday morning, a few people came by the lab to install temporary mats by some of the hoods. The general idea is to monitor how much time we spend working at the hood each day. The mats sense our weight and record a length of time in a networked "box" just outside the lab. The compiled data get downloaded later.
No, it's not some passive-aggressive move on the part of my funding agency. Princeton Chemistry is breaking ground for a new building soon (our first new home since the Coolidge administration!) and an estimate of our time spent at the hood goes into choosing the best system of new hoods for the new building.
So let me back up a bit here and tell you what a hood is and why I use one.
Fume hoods are a mainstay of the organic chemistry lab. A hood is an enclosed workspace designed so that we can perform our experiments in a space that's fairly isolated from the air we breathe. Air flows up into the hood and away from the lab, sparing us from a lot of noxious fumes and small, potentially lung-coating particles. I work at the hood standing up, though I sometimes sit at a bar-stool height seat. The hoods in our lab are about 6 or 8 feet wide and pretty deep, longer than arm's length for me. They're outfitted with places to secure our flasks, vials, test tubes, whatever. Also in my hood are magnetic plates for stirring and heating, a couple of water taps, and a line for putting reactions under a vacuum or under an inert gas (see my entry on gloveboxes for a reminder about why that's important.)
You can imagine that several hundred of these hoods constantly sucking away air makes it costly to heat and cool a building. There have been improvements in hoods' energy efficiency with new designs, and we will be getting these "improved" hoods in the new building. The MacMillan labs are already equipped with new, energy efficient hoods. I guess they just want to get an idea of the volume of airflow that the we use in a given day, hence the mats.
One problem I see is that I'm not sure whether they are assuming that everyone closes their hood to save energy when they aren't working at them. Wishful thinking in this building. I know I'm not always very good about that.
The mats are about the size of a welcome mat and nondescript gray in color. Not nearly as nice as what I currently have attached to my XBox at home for playing Dance Dance Revolution. (You laugh, but try playing the advanced level. Tell me that's not a good workout.) This is kind of similar to what we got.
Needless to say, the mats spawned a couple of creative strategies in the group for "enhancing" the hour count, from moving our argon tanks on top of the mats to offering extra credit to undergrads to stand there for you.
So basically, it looks like I might soon be able to construct a bar graph like the one Kyle made here.