Recordkeeping, Writing,
& Data Analysis


Microscope studies

Flagella experiment
Laboratory math
Blood fractionation
Gel electrophoresis
Protein gel analysis
Concepts/ theory
Keeping a lab notebook
Writing research papers
Dimensions & units
Using figures (graphs)
Examples of graphs
Experimental error
Representing error
Applying statistics
Principles of microscopy

Solutions & dilutions
Protein assays
Fractionation & centrifugation
Radioisotopes and detection



An 'Accidental' Discovery

This story was related to me by a supervisor during my first post-doc. I have no documentation for it, however, it makes a good story even if it is only a story.

In the late nineteenth century, scientists studying the basis for contraction of the heart muscle were hampered by an inability to obtain beating isolated hearts. It was already known that a well-oxygenated heart continues to beat after excision from the subject, therefore no nervous input is needed. However after a short time hearts removed from animals stopped beating despite rigorous maintenance of temperature and perfusion with an oxygenated physiological saline solution. Electrical stimulation was not successful either. This was especially puzzling, since skeletal muscle can be stimulated to contract for a very long time after its isolation.

A cardiovascular physiologist, Sidney Ringer, was attempting to study isolated hearts and like other physiologists he used a saline solution consisting primarily of sodium, potassium, and chloride ions, with a buffer added to the solution. Like any good scientist he used distilled water to prepare his solutions. Like the other cardiovascular physiologists of the time, he observed that the heart muscle failed to contract after a short time. Then one day, inexplicably, an isolated heart preparation beat vigorously and continued to beat for hours!

It turned out that the lab had run out of distilled water, and rather than remain idle the technician used river water to make up the solutions. River water contains, among other minerals, calcium ions. This accidental discovery led to the finding that heart muscle, unlike skeletal muscle, requires extracellular calcium to contract. If Ringer's technician had not kept a record of how he had proceeded that day the 'mystery' would have remained unexplained, and most likely someone else would eventually have been credited with the discovery.

Keep track of all details of procedures in your notebook, and include any changes to procedure, no matter how seemingly unimportant they are at the time. Not only do you need the details to refine methods and confirm errors, but you may in fact discover something new.

Copyright and Intended Use
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Created by David R. Caprette (caprette@rice.edu), Rice University Dates