Why hoarding is good scientific practice...

Look around your desk. I bet there’s a drawer stuffed with cables that you simply don’t want to throw out*. You never know when you might need that one specific adaptor and you can probably remember that one time when you did have the essential [insert item of your choice here] that saved the day with a particular experiment.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?


Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Ultimately this hoarding reflects ‘good scientific practice’ – holding onto seemingly useless or unnecessary things, whether that is data, or tools or the piece of kit that ‘came with you’ from your previous university.  A seemingly pointless result one day can suddenly be the key that illuminates some unexplained data and new avenue of research.

During my PhD, my colleagues and I in the SPM group here in Bristol had a habit of hoarding our used AFM probes. The reason being of course that you might need to re-use a probe that gave you a specific result, or maybe image one in an SEM to see why the image wasn’t what you were expecting.  It was scientifically important to hoard AFM probes!

In order to remember whether the probe was to be kept and reused or kept but not reused, I created a sort of code in terms of how I angled the probe when I put it back in the box and kept notes in my lab book to remind me. I’d be lying if I said that there was never any confusion when I came back to the probes at a later date… my system was far from fool proof!


It’s the little things that count

Some time ago I was chatting with some fellow AFMers and discovered that they too had equally complex mechanisms for storing their probes.  On the basis of that discussion, I decided to design our Gel-Pak® packaging in such a way that you can quickly see whether an AFM probe is used or unused, and if used whether it could be reused.


It may only a little thing but I’ve found these small details make all the difference in the world of academic research. It’s a key part of how I work.  It’s also why I relish getting feedback on our probes. It’s great to hear good stuff about our products (obviously! Don’t hold back!).  But actually, like any good scientist, what I really enjoy is chewing over ideas and problems, and finding innovative ways to solve them.


*If you feel the need to confess to your item of hoarding choice, let us know. Your secret will remain safe with us (unless you post it publicly as a comment below of course…).

(Gel-Pak® is a registered trademark of Delphon)