Important Considerations when doing Lab Experiments


Lab Safety

It is our top priority that nobody gets injured while doing an experiment. Some of the projects we'll work on in this class involve materials that, if used improperly, could lead to injury. You're probably familiar with the story of the person who sued McDonalds for several million dollars after dumping hot coffee into her own lap. Hot coffee is hot because we like it that way, and people need to accept that we can't, and probably wouldn't want to, live in a world completely free from risk. Nothing we do in this class is more dangerous than everyday activities like boiling water, chopping vegetables, or crossing the street, but it is within the realm of possibility that you could hurt yourself. Please exercise caution. There are ways to reduce these risks. Among the things you should remember are:

Ethical Treatment of Animals

Despite what you might think, scientists care about their research animals and go to great lengths to treat them humanely. It doesn't matter if the animal is unimportant or repulsive to some people, like a worm, or a cockroach or a venomous snake, or if it's cute, furry, and charismatic. If experimental animals are sick, stressed, undernourished or otherwise unhealthy in ways that are not a necessary part of the experimental design, the validity of the experiment is compromised. If an experiment requires the sacrifice or even temporary discomfort of the animal, it must meet a very high standard of necessity. Universities have strict regulations about the ethical care, treatment, and general use of animals in research and teaching, and the regulations go far beyond what is required by law. We will not be doing any experiments using live vertebrates (animals with a backbone) in this class. No living fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, or mammals will be used in any of our experiments. Observation of live animals in the wild is allowed as long as there is no interference with their normal behavior. For example, you can observe a bird building a nest, but you must try to avoid disturbing its activities. Why? A bird might abandon its nest if you bother it and, if the bird is aware of your presence, it may alter the behavior you are trying to study. We may use plants and invertebrates, such as snails, earthworms, insects, etc. in some of our projects, but we will still treat them humanely. While these regulations are self-imposed, they are much stricter than those used in the pet trade, farming, fishing, and many other human activities that involve the use of animals. It is important to remember that a great deal of important medical knowledge that directly benefits humans has come from animal research, but that we are still morally obliged to be humane and to do as little harm as possible, even to animals that most humans don't care about, or ones that the rest of us actively try to exterminate.