June 28, 2006

Every so often I come up with an idea that is good, yet so obvious that I feel stupid for not thinking of it a long time ago. There must be some particular circumstances that jolt my brain into these moments of clarity after months or even years of obliviousness, but what could they possibly be?

My latest “Duh!” moment occurred in the lab on Monday afternoon. I was washing my scintillation vials’ radioactive contents down the drain (this is legal, by the way) and then throwing the vials away. “Boy, I sure seem to toss out a lot of vials,” I thought numbly. “But wait…” — the numbness started to recede — “Do I really have to get rid of them? Once they’ve been rinsed out, they’re no longer radioactive. Shouldn’t I just reuse them? … Hey, I’m an environmentalist!”

Of course, it would have been even better if this had dawned on me back in, say, 2003.

So what prompted my cerebral neurons to actually start communicating with each other? In this case, I think it was the sight of a box full of hundreds of vials destined for the vial graveyard. Somehow that image depressed me enough to trigger five seconds of contemplating how I could reduce my personal production of lab waste.

It was a very satisfying and productive five seconds. I have no idea when my next fleeting moment of cognitive competence will arise, but I’m looking forward to it!

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