Secret weapons of science: Most useful items for research


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What are the most useful tools for scientific research?

We asked our team of SciAll scientists what they considered to be the most useful item for their research. What do they not go into the field without? What is their “secret weapon” as a scientist?

#1 Waterproof Silicone

For Amelia Munson, Behavioral Ecologist, waterproof silicone is the key. Why? Because she can build anything she wants as long as she has that waterproof silicone!

#2 Giant Rubber Twisties

Dr. Mike Gil, Marine Biologist, can’t go without giant rubber twisties. But… what are they? First and foremost, they’re phenomenal! Just like it sounds, they’re big rubber twisties. The reason they are so amazing is he can fasten things on the fly, effortlessly, and temporarily. Plus, they are reusable and have a really good shelf life. He’ll beat the crap out of these things in the field and will get dozens of deployments of of them. He’s often using them to fasten video cameras to scaffolding, which he then uses to follow coral reef fish around. It’s really cool to be able to just twist them on and off. He also learned that while doing field work, they can be improvisational hooks for clothes to hang them from light fixtures and doors so they can dry out. Having a way to dry your clothes is really important when you’re working in the tropics!

Check out about 30 seconds into the video for an example

#3 Tape

Specifically, masking tape for Rossana Maguiña, Pollination Biologist. She uses it for everything when doing field work. She’s even used it a few times to fix a flower that she accidentally broke before running an experiment.

Dr. Jenan Kharbush, Chemical Oceanographer & Microbial Biogeochemist, agrees… she can do anything with tape! She’s built entire experimental setups pretty much out of tape, cardboard, and maybe some tinfoil. But the tape is definitely the essential element. Check out this part of the video for a great example on a water filter!

#4 Digital Calendar

Dr. Alex Jentsch, Nuclear Physicist, keeps organized with his digital calendar. It sounds silly, but when he was in graduate school he only used calendar for a few personal things. But, now that he’s a postdoc and taking on more responsibilities, and has to find meeting times with several different people, having a digital calendar is super crucial and important to his daily success. Especially, one that can be accessed by other colleagues.

#5 Gold Bond (the green stuff)

Dr. Beth Lenz, Coral Biologist, refuses to go into the field without Gold Bond! She can’t do her research without it. If she’s doing intensive diving, lots of snorkeling, and being in the water all the time she has to have Gold Bond. AND, it has to be the green stuff! Not the yellow original. She has to have the extra strength, anti-itch. It’s necessary because jelly fish are going to sting you, the water could be awful, and you’ll be sticky in a wet suit all day. So, GOLD BOND! It’s amazing.

#6 A Good Cooler

Dr. Kaitlin Bowman, Chemical Oceanographer, doesn’t go to any research site without a good cooler. This is especially key for Oceanographers. It can’t be too big of a cooler, because then it’s going to be too heavy. If it has wheels or a retractable handle, even better! As a Chemical Oceanographer she has to ship all of her samples from an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, or maybe she’s somewhere in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, and she has to get her samples back home to the lab. And they have to stay frozen. So, having a really good cooler is very important for her job.

#7 Pocket Calculator

Dr. Kelly Spear, Comparative Biologist, is all about her pocket calculator. Partly, because she’s not great at her times tables. It is always very comforting to her to be able to pull out her pocket calculator and double check that her math is all correct before she pipets liquids and moves forward with her experiment. Or, when she’s double checking that she has all of her notes for her specimens in the field. So helpful to have a pocket calculator. She will advocate for the pocket calculator, forever!

#8 Reusable Produce Bags

Kat Beheshti, Marine Ecologist, can’t go without reusable produce bags. The drawstring mesh ones to avoid using a plastic bag when at the grocery store. She uses them like crazy, and likely has close to 150 of them. It’s one of her unexpected research secret weapons.

#9 Pen and Paper

Some things don’t go out of style. Dr. Sheref Mansy, Prebiotic Chemist, finds it hard to do research without pen and paper. It doesn’t really seem to matter how advanced we get electronically, nothing seems to be able to capture your thoughts and ideas as well as pen and paper.

#10 Ctrl + Z (undo!)

For Dr. Joe Pfaller, Sea Turtle Biologist, one of his most amazing tools that he uses as a researcher is the Ctrl + Z combination. The undo button. Whether it’s working on a Word document, in PowerPoint, Excel, or doing emails, he uses the undo button all the time. Sometimes, even if he’s in the field and he does something stupid he tries to say “Control Z! Control Z!” so that he goes back one minute to not do that stupid thing that he just did.

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