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Synchronized Pipetting

by Mary Abraham and Jochen Rink
Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge

We investigated the effect of using music to enhance the sub-optimal system of undergraduate laboratory research assistants (Researcheria virginium). Many aspects of the interaction between the undergraduate and the laboratory bench leave much to be desired. We focused on the simplest -- yet easily quantifiable -- laboratory skill, the noble art of accurate pipetting.


Many publications have documented the beneficial effects of music on mind and body, a phenomenon known as the Mozart effect.[1] Intelligence improves whilst one listens to music. It is also known that classical music causes significant increases in the milk yield of Holstein cows (Bovus holsticus). We merely attempted to see if music could be successfully applied in a similar way on a different problem.

Theoretical Pretext for this Research

Our premise was that pipetting errors must originate somewhere within the sensory motor axis of the undergraduate. Thus our investigation plumbs the depths of the undergraduate central nervous system (CNS), such as it is.

Our Findings

First we discovered that when a student pipetted to musical accompaniment, his or her speed, accuracy and final experimental success rates were transformed. We witnessed dazzling refinements in all aspects of pipetting that came under our scrutiny (data not shown). The authors’ personal recommendation for a piece of music ideally suited for this purpose is Strauss’ "The Blue Danube."

Suggestive as these preliminary findings were, our most significant discovery was unexpected, and momentous. There is a synergistic effect when music is used to synchronise the pipetting of all the workers on a bench.

We completely shattered world records for experimental success rates (data not shown).

Moreover, it is our conviction that no display of synchronized motion in the natural world can rival the heavenly vision of a symmetrical row of researchers rhythmically pipetting. The majestic beauty of such a sight has moved several (two of two) of the investigators to tears.

We believe that this combination of laboratory procedure and music points, somehow, to the missing link between science and art, with the power to transform lives.[2]

Future studies

Our subjects, damn them, showed a marked reluctance to provide sufficient volume of CNS tissue samples us to do a proper physiological and biochemical analysis. Therefore the molecular basis, if any, for the effect remains unknown.

Pipetting to the Oldies

(YouTube link)


1. F.H. Rauscher, G.L. Shaw, and K.N. Ky, Nature, vol. 365, no. 611, 1993.
2. Twelfth Night, W. Shakespeare.


This article is republished with permission from the July-August 2001 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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