Top 10 Lab Fails

Apr 11, 2019 / by Alex A. Goldberg, Ph.D.

Lab fails happen to the best of us.  We started a contest to commemorate the veterans who have experienced these traumatic or hilarious moments. You all sent us your best work, and we’re happy to announce the winners here, in our blog. These lucky people will receive both the distinction of having the best (worst?) lab fail of the month as well as a stylish GiantMicrobes DNA plushy. Without further ado, here are your best lab fails of March 2019:

#1 – Armageddon

“A grad student from another lab borrowed our oven we use for dry heat sterilization to run a reaction at 180°C. He misunderstood how to reset the temperature to what we normally use, and the following morning, one of our grad students started it to sterilize our equipment without checking the set temperature (the screen only shows current temperature, whereas the set temperature is found in the settings menu). So, by the time we realized what was happening, it was far too late :(.”

lab material melted in sterilization oven


#2 – The surrealist

“I was using gas chromatography (GC) to heat samples. Due to a miscommunication, someone turned on the GC to run their samples. The oven got up to 150°C, melted my rack, and destroyed my samples. The silver lining is that I was easily able to get the tube rack out of the oven and no plastic was left inside the GC!”

lab fail - melted tube rack


#3 – Breaking the lab

“Improperly installed cabinets came crashing down over the weekend. At least no one got hurt.” -Kirsten Coleman

collapsed cabinets, in the lab


#4 – The popsicle blot

“I stored my SDS-PAGE gel in the fridge over the weekend. It was packed in a destaining bowl in water and wrapped in wet paper and foil so it wouldn’t dry out. It turned into a popsicle instead.”

cracked sds-page gel, improperly stored


#5 – So close yet so far

“I was attempting a liquid nitrogen thunder cloud at an outreach event and missed the bucket when pouring in the hot water.” -Nicole Behnke



#6 – The golden penny

“I first coated a copper penny with zinc sulfate, turning the penny a silver color. When you put a newly coated penny on a hot plate for 6 to 10 seconds, the zinc and copper are supposed to mix together into a golden-colored metallic alloy. Thus, the magic "golden" penny should have emerged. Leave it on the hot plate for too long and the zinc will melt into a liquid, leaving a barely recognizable coin, and according to According to Title 18, Chapter 17 of the U.S. Code, a possible fine and/or jail sentence.” -Margaret Jensen

over-heated copper penny lab fail


#7 – The fish blot

“These were my first few attempts at western blots. I would forget to roll out bubbles, my gel cast wouldn't be set up properly, and somehow my proteins would get into wells that I hadn't loaded protein into. I'm doing much better now though!”

western blot with a bubble that resembles a fish


#8 – Don’t leave your cells at home

"I defrosted a vial of cells to begin a new culture. After centrifuging the vial, I changed the media and resuspended the cells in new media. After adding the cells to the flask, I checked them under the microscope. They looked smaller than usual, but I thought it ought to be fine by the time I come back from the weekend.

Flashforward to Monday, my cells look no different from Friday. There are no attached cells and definitely no proliferation. Weird. I trypsinize and centrifuge my other cell culture flask and notice the vial cap on my water balance in the centrifuge is a different color than usual. I lift the vial and see my cell pellet at the bottom. I had tried to culture the water I used to balance the centrifuge instead of cells. Big oof."


#9 – The mystery gel

“Maybe faulty reagents, maybe experimental mistake, maybe overheating. Who knows?”

lab fail - gel migration gone wrong


#10 – The little bottle who could(n’t)

“I autoclaved a little plastic bottle to re-use it. It didn't make it.”

lab fail - autoclaved plastic bottle 



Honorable Mention 

“Autoclaved two carboys, apparently only one of them could take the heat :(.“

lab fail - autoclaved  carboy gone wrong


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Topics: Science, Laboratory