University janitor, frustrated by "annoying" beeps from lab freezer, shut if off and ruined 20 years of biochemical research

Originally published at: University janitor, frustrated by "annoying" beeps from lab freezer, shut if off and ruined 20 years of biochemical research | Boing Boing



Au contraire. The guy is a genius. He’s been secretly completing their research for years.

Matt Damon GIF


Who’s that, the lab manager? You got a million dollars worth of samples in a freezer, you’d better damn make sure it’s on an independent monitoring system that calls/texts when the temp goes out of range.


For all we know, this janitor just saved humanity from Skynet.


I kind of know this feeling, when I forgot to pay my electric bill and they shut it off and all my ice cream melted.


Winona Ryder Movie GIF by filmeditor


The fact that you have done a million dollars worth of work doesn’t guarantee that they’ll give you a reasonable amount of funds to protect that work from stupidity.

A lot of labs have a similar amount of “only place on the planet” sort of work that’s been done over decades at the expense of millions of dollars. It’s not feasible to protect it all from potential actions of uninformed people working around the facilities.

I was once working in a lab, on the weekends as we all did, and realized that the fume hood, which had the equivalent of nerve gas in it, was turned off. A contractor, working on a different floor, had turned off all the building’s fume hoods,because it was the weekend, and he assumed that scientists work bankers hours.


Nah, it was photosynthesis research

Dc Comics Ivy GIF by DC


I’m having flashbacks to a couple of careers ago. My employer at the time had a bunch of samples for various studies done for the FDA and/or EPA for customers: soil, plant, animal tissue. Because they were too cheap to build enough freezers to store them, they put them outside in a freezer truck.

After defrosting the freezer truck one fine summer day, somebody apparently left it defrosting all weekend (I’m a little vague on the details here). Because it was summer and because the truck was defrosting, it got really hot. Somebody was supposed to record the temperature every so often, but they didn’t; the truck wasn’t networked because it was less common at the time and because it was a truck.

You cannot imagine the smell.

Thanks to this, my employer spent the next several years redoing those studies–many of which were pretty damn complicated. On their own dime. Lawyers were involved and they lost a number of customers as well.


You fools! One of the samples was The Thing, and being frozen was the only thing keeping it dormant!

And Kurt Russell is probably too old for this shit to save us!


That’s even worse, since lives were at risk there. I hope for your sake some light somewhere started flashing when the room lost negative pressure. Surely the lab was rated (e.g., LVDL) and had corresponding protocols in place.

Anyhow, irreplaceable samples- I guess the stakeholders decided the risk was worth the cost savings of a monitoring system. A freezer, like any mechanical device, will fail eventually. Who knows, maybe tonight I’ll get called in for a freezer failure and have to transfer everything into backup spaces (wouldn’t be the first time!)


If a light was flashing anywhere, it may have been in a HVAC monitor somewhere, it did not do so on our end. I was doing microscopy, dehydrating samples, and smelled xylene. I think we had a piece of kimwipe taped to the window of the hood, as a telltale. The hood had been in constant operation for years, so it didn’t occur to me to double check if it was on, we had the switch taped on. What I was doing was noxious, but not that risky, but some of the things that we used in that hood were potentially lethal. Felt very canary in a coal mine. This was in the early '90s, I think they’ve updated safety protocols since that time.


insulting someone is not helpful.

The CNN link is broken but from another report on the same event

“The filing said the cleaner is a person with “special needs.” An attorney representing RPI, Michael Ginsberg, said he couldn’t elaborate. The lawsuit alleges the company is at fault for failing to properly train and supervise their employee.”

The issue is with the contracting company, not so much the individual.


Yup. We had a server room where one of the janitorial staff would turn off the servers at night. Ostensibly to save money… (This was before eat monitoring.) I also remember one who did the same in a computer lab running simulations that were supposed to run for days. And I do recall seeing one of the -60 freezers with a note taped on that said “Do not turn off!” Those were the days. :slight_smile: I’m sure there’s lots of other places where things like this happen, just without such an expensive and damaging result.


I have personally encountered similar. When I did tech support for a university, we’d have entire buildings off the network in the mornings. Every time it was a case of the cleaners unplugging our fiber transceivers to plug in the vacuum and not plugging them back in.

Tho I was told a story about a lab fridge with human body parts in it. All kinds of body parts. Even a selection of, uh, “members” arranged by length. Like a xylophone. They had an alarm company monitoring it. Fridge died, nobody from the company noticed. By morning it was not a good scene. So they called the alarm company and got a tech to come out. Took him down to the fridge and opened it. Watched him turn green at what he saw (and smelled)

“See that? No, look at it, really look at it. It’s all going to have to be replaced. Now, would you say you’re maybe a D♭…?”

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Someone said the janitor was a special needs person. My thought was perhaps the person couldn’t read English. The sign obviously said how to mute it, so if the person could read the sign, they’d have done that. Otherwise, human error.


The amount of obvious signage people will just ignore is astounding.

Skynet is robots :robot:

Spoiling a biology experiment is saving us from … the zombie apocalypse?

kinda played out — we need new biology jokes :microbe:

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None of the cleaning people in my building can read english, so that wouldn’t surprise me. They assume (rightly) that if a note is directed to them it will be written in spanish.

They are all well versed on lab safety and what not to touch. There are ocasional accidents (like when someone bumped a vacuum into the laser control unit under the table and broke the power switch), but a way lower rate of accidents from cleaning staff than from grad students

Which should be pointed out; if it was someone with a college degree that killed this freezer it would not be amplified as a national story.