By Sharon Ramati
It started off subtly. A computer error here, a small spill of solvent there. In the beginning I chalked it up to bad luck. But by the time I had broken over a thousand dollars’ worth of laboratory glassware, and three different instruments would not cooperate with me as they normally would, I was convinced I was cursed. I wouldn’t even peep into the lab as I passed by on my way to my desk for fear that my colleagues’ experiments would be infected by my bad luck.
In the first few days, I didn’t even notice that something was off. It was my friend Nicole who said something about me being clumsier than usual when she saw a round-bottom flask leap from my hands and shatter in the sink. I began recalling all the mishaps of the past few days. For a moment I considered that maybe there was something to what Nicole was saying, but we laughed it off and carried on with our work.
Later that day, it became clear that something really was going on. Every other piece of glassware I touched broke, fell, or slipped right out of my hands and smashed dramatically. Instruments that worked perfectly fine for my colleagues gave me weird malfunction errors that even the experts had a hard time explaining. Water pipes burst inside the dry box, which is a box that has the sole purpose of keeping things dry.
The curse became a running joke in the lab. The people I worked with used to sound a warning–only half-kidding– when I walked into the lab. They would offer to perform my tasks for me while I stayed a safe distance away at my computer. And everyone had lots of advice for getting rid of the bad luck. I came in one morning to a bulb of garlic on my desk.
After two weeks of the curse, I needed a break. I asked for a few days off and spent some time at home, going to the gym, sleeping in, and spending quality time watching Netflix with my cat.
When I returned to the lab, the curse was gone. No more broken glassware or weird computer errors. The instruments all worked as they should. It turned out all I needed was a few days of rest to recalibrate myself. But I left the garlic on my desk just in case.
Sharon Ramati is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Chemistry at NYU.