I wish I could take credit for coming up with Iron Uptake Chef, but one of my readers – you know who you are – coined the term for me. Coolest title ever!  Iron uptake experiments are my “thing” in the lab. You know how a person might love to make pasta from scratch, or bake breads, or bake cookies, and that is their comfort zone in the kitchen? In a lab, we all have our favorite experiments. For me, by far, it is anything related to iron uptake. These experiments require careful timing and I was born with a chronometer inside my head. Anything that requires careful timing, please let me take care of it. I love it, and all modesty aside, do a pretty good job with it. For these experiments we must measure the radioactivity in hundreds of test tubes, one by one, using a machine called gamma-counter, aka My Preciousssss.

If something happens with My Preciousssss, I am in deep, deep trouble. Unfortunately that is exactly what I faced last year. My beloved gamma-counter died. I suspected a mechanical problem, the chains that move the tubes around were stuck. Our counter is old (built in 1990), no one services it anymore, parts are next to impossible to find.  So the Iron Uptake Chef was left with 180 samples inside the machine. Paralyzed. We considered buying a new machine, but the price tag is painful: about 25K.

In despair, we asked our IT guy to take a look at it. He’s been working in our department for 30 years (!!!), and performs all sorts of miracles in anything involving computers and beyond. Gamma-counters go beyond the definition of beyond, but… he said he would take a look at it. Yes, it was a mechanical problem, and he thought that replacing one component that rotates a big handle inside the machine could be the key to solve it. He took the part out, searched for it on ebay, and found something that seemed to be a good replacement. A few more days went by, the radioactivity in my samples decaying at the same rate my hyperventilation was increasing.  When we finally got the part, the dimension of one metal component was too big, it would not fit in the little space available for it. Undeterred, our guru got a special saw and “trimmed” the part to fit. He worked a whole weekend on it, and by Monday morning my Preciousss was in top shape, and my experiment saved!

So how do you even begin to say thank you for someone who went not just the extra mile, but what it amounts to a full marathon for you?  I asked him what was his favorite cake, and promised I would bake him one. As he considered all the possibilities, I started to shake inside, fearing the worst. What have I just done? Have I set myself to calamitous trouble? Could he possibly pick a Gateau Saint-Honore’? A Sacher Torte, perhaps? Well, it was challenge enough for this Iron Woman. Stay tuned for the outcome…

(to be continued….)










  1. Being a ‘lab rat’ like yourself, when a challenge arises you will attack it with the same mental acuity demanded of you everyday. It’s a cake damit! Read the recipe over 3 times, break it down into measured steps, time it carefully and don’t be intimidated by the past. Put on your ‘superwoman’ T-shirt and just do it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t publish names unless given permission by the person, and some prefer not to be named 😉

      I wish he could get a raise, if our university was not pretty much broken, I bet he would get one…

      (nice to “see” you here… it’s been a loooong time)


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