Image: Courtesy of Ken Frauwirth

It's not yet lunch-time, and you've just started an ultracentrifuge. The prospect of spending the next six hours watching shiny, spinning objects is next to unbearable. What to do, what to do?

"You put some dry ice in an Eppendorf tube and if you stand it up straight, it takes off like a bottle rocket," says one graduate student, who understandably wishes to remain anonymous. "Sometimes we have contests to see who can make it go the highest."

It's a universal problem of lab work: playing the waiting game while experiments run their course. "Technology is allowing us to do things we haven't been able to before, but that doesn't necessarily make things faster," says John Latto, a researcher in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Western blot tests, PCRs, and sequencing gels can take hours to complete. The...

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