Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Monday Rant (Badly Delayed): Scientific Supplies

Those of you who have never worked in a science lab would be surprised by how much every frickin' thing costs.

It's almost unbelievable, which is probably why one always recieves about three copies of every itemised-in-excruciating-detail reciept - to provide strong evidence that you really are paying that much.

This rant was triggered by the arrival, today, of a set of five plastic storage racks I'd recently ordered from VWR-Canlab, a company that supplies a huge variety of stuff for scientific research. Their print catalogue, which does not contain everything listed on the website, runs to about 2400 pages (the alphabetical subject index alone is 75 pages). One of the racks was damaged, probably during shipping. Given how much they cost, I was hoping for either a little better packing (thin-wall cardboard only) or more durable construction.
Everything in that catalogue is hideously overpriced. Even getting the Franklin-damned catalogue was a pain in the ass (for Scott, I'm not interested in print catalogues). Let's take a tour through some examples:

Cost: from about $9 per small (250 mL) beaker up to $116 for the largest (4 L). Do you have glasses in your cupboard that cost that much? This is thin-wall glass, borosilicate so you can heat them to very hot, but still.

2. Erlenmeyer Flasks (the classic "sciency" flask)
Cost: from about $6 each for tiny ones (25 mL) up to $185 for a 6 L model. A commonly-used 500 mL flask costs almost $8

There is a wide variety of lab coats available for the discriminating overbearing mad scientist / PI.
Cost: sold in packs of 25 for close to $200. Actually, that's not terrible. So why does the bookstore charge undergraduate chemists $18?

I used to sell these things at a hardware store in Calgary. They went for about $4 each there, VWR will sell them for more than $10 each.

Alright, that's enough gratuitous catalogue diving. Back to the prompt: my broken rack:

This is a normal, undamaged rack

And here's the damaged top of one

A view of the hinge area, with comparison

These things cost almost $20 each! Oh well, it's not like it's my money. The fact that the overwhelming majority of purchases from VWR and similar companies are financed by funding grants probably explains why so few people complain about this. Wanna be rich? Don't bother with mousetraps; invent a better way to play with DNA

1 comment:

Carlo said...

This has had a strangely opposite effect on me. Having ordered scientific equipment and supplies, I now look at normal stuff as being unbelievably cheap!

For instance, in Willie's lab, we did Southerns with positively charged nylon membranes that required only drying to keep the DNA on. An older and cheaper system involves drying the membranes (after DNA application) followed by hitting them with microwaves for 45 seconds.

Now, the unit for doing this is basically a microwave with a time-dial and NO OTHER FEATURES. Yet it costs 4-5 times the price of a commercial microwave, making me think that MWs are 'cheap'...

Actually, this rant has made me think of a rant of my own involving the policy at many universities requiring labs to purchase computer supplies from the campus' GROSSLY overpriced computer centre... ARGH!