Current Employment

These days I’ve been doing some testing that involves gel electrophoresis. This is a process often used to separate out different chemicals in a mixture (for example a mixture of DNA fragments with assorted lengths), typically in aqueous solution, on the basis of the individual component’s size and charge.

Make bubbles!

To accomplish this you basically make half inch thick slab out of gelatin (well “agarose” technically) and cover the “gel” with a sufficient quantity of buffer solution (say a 1x concentration of Tris/Acetate/EDTA solution). Then you insert some of the mixture to be separated into little holes in one end of this gel.

Lastly you place electrodes in the buffer on each end of the gel so that current runs through the gel. This electrical current pulls the differently sized/charged components of the mixture through the gel at different rates. After you’ve waited awhile (anywhere between 30min. and a day depending on the size of the gel and the current applied) you take out the gel, add some flourescent dye and illuminate it using the appropriate equipment to see how it separated. Typically it either comes out as a big smear, or a bunch of bands something like this.

But pulling mixture through gel isn’t the only thing that this process accomplishes. As a byproduct, running direct current through aqueous solutions can also separate the hydrogen and oxygen in the water molecules, gathering the hydrogen to one electrode and the oxygen to the other.

This here is an attempt to film the bubbling that occurs during this process in a gel box.

Along the bottom inner edge of the clear plastic box runs a piece of wire. On this wire you can see larger bubbles that have collected and remain relatively stable. However, those who squint hard enough at the grainy footage may also be able to make out numerous additional tiny bubbles rising in endless succession from the wire like the fizz from a bottle of ginger ale.

Typically these bubbles of gas dissapate quickly when they reach the surface, simply representing energy wasted in the process. However, in theory one could collect them using some sort of funneling apparatus at the water’s surface, then compress and sell them to bulk gas vendors, thus recouping some small fraction of the cost of electricity needed to run the gel.

That’s how I’m going to make my first million anyway.

Click here to watch bubbles.

About Peter

This guy lives in Boston MA with his beloved wife and two kids. You can get some idea of his likes and dislikes from posts on this website or elsewhere.

2 thoughts on “Current Employment

  1. Hypothetically, lets say the process was possible and cheap. If one were to represent such a process of bubble collection on the theatrical stage – what would the vapor harnessing apparatus look like? More specifically, how would you design a cost effective prop to visually represent the process?

    Can you do a follow up post (with visuals) of the prop.

    There’s no need to delineate what on earth the collected gas would be used for. I assume the play would be about a man who made millions by selling his respective gasses to dirigible companies and oxygen bars.

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