Laboratory Science: From Penal Colonies to Video Game Arcades

Laboratory science is filled with dull, repetitive tasks. Casting gels, pipetting, streaking plates, and on and on. Did you know adult C. elegan worms have 969 cells? Well they do. We know that because a number of graduate students were locked locked themselves into a room and painstakingly counted, and re-counted all those cells.

It should come as no surprise that laboratories have been compared to penal colonies. Glorified work camps for the technically adept! The root word of laboratory is “labor” after all.

Does the practice of science really need to be this way? Could science and laboratory work be more playful? In Shapiro’s 1991 book, The Human Blueprint, George Church wonders whether the lab could be turned into something more akin to a video game arcade:

“In counter to Sydney Brenner’s comparison of a sequencing laboratory to a penal colony, George Church has offered an analogy to a video game arcade, a place where a basically repetitive operation is so enjoyable that the participants work voluntarily for hours on end and even pay for the privilege. ”

Comparisons of science careers to video games are much more fun than comparisons to labor camps or penal colonies. The quote from George above challenges us to think beyond metaphors. How might the laboratory environment itself be transformed into something more playful, fun, and engaging?

Robert Shapiro, The Human Blueprint. St. Martin’s Press, 1991. [quote from page 252]


2 Responses to “Laboratory Science: From Penal Colonies to Video Game Arcades”

  1. Misha on July 17th, 2008 8:12 am

    I’ve got to get a hold of George’s happy pills…

  2. Kingsley on July 26th, 2008 3:28 pm

    I’ve mostly accepted employment in order to entertain myself - and that has been the best path to mutual benefit. I wish the word “work” goes away forever.

    PS: I’m back blogging too :)

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