Glasswash Clears the Way for Science at TSRI

By Mika Ono

“From my point of view, the experiments start here,” says Deloris Harvey, a Glasswash supervisor at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), looking around the room at busy staff, industrial-size glass washing machines, continuously running dryers, and carts full of sterilized glassware. "Without Glasswash, a lot of science at TSRI would come to a stop."

Glasswash—spread out in five locations to be close to the labs they serve—cleans roughly 1,000 pieces of scientific glassware a day. The Glasswash staff, who work in shifts starting as early as 3 AM, wheel carts to the labs to pick up dirty glassware, then deliver it clean and sterilized the next day.

Miguel Garcia, Glasswash supervisor in the Molecular and Experimental Medicine Building who recently marked his 35-year anniversary at the institute, notes that the glassware he picks up from every lab is different. "Some labs produce lots of test tubes; others, lots of plastic or bottles," he says. "Each lab has its own specialty."

Getting the glassware clean can be a high-tech operation. Glasswash uses a specially formulated (and highly corrosive) soap that can tackle not just dirt, but also salts, agar and protein. "Even our soap can’t handle everything," comments Harvey. "There was one lab in Molecular Biology that was using something that reminded me of cod liver oil. I had to get out the chemical books to find a way to cut the heavy, gooey grease."

Cleaning procedures can be quite elaborate. Tissue culture dishes from the Immunology labs, for example, are put in the industrial-strength washers with hot water, soap and bleach for 20 minutes. Staff then scrub the glassware by hand before it is put back in the washing machine to be rinsed with hot water. After a stint in the dryer, the pieces are marked with autoclaving tape, then autoclaved at 270 degrees Fahrenheit for complete sterilization. Throughout, safety is a priority so that Glasswash staff do not come into direct contact with chemicals when they handle the glassware or use cleansing agents.

Professor Emeritus Neil Cooper, who oversees part of the Glasswash operation, concludes: "It’s a big responsibility to produce sanitary glass—experiments depend on it. And it’s not easy to keep glassware from 40 or 50 labs where it belongs. Fortunately, the staff working in Glasswash are solid citizens who take pride in their work. A lot of people count on them."



Miguel Garcia, Glasswash supervisor in the Molecular and Experimental Medicine Building, has cleaned and sterilized glass at the institute for 35 years.