Friday, September 2, 2011

Into the belly of the beast

The other day I had the opportunity to go on a tour of the DPS Houston Crime Lab up on the northwest side of town. I would like to thank Mr. Robert Prince, Jr. for taking me around, not just the facilities in the new building, but also through the old lab next door.

We started off in the old work area. The lab moved earlier this year but there is still some equipment and furniture left across the parking lot (in the blue building you can see from 290). With the dim light and the old equipment lying around, the room looked like the perfect setting for a horror movie or a chase scene in some thriller -- you know, the scene where the girl finds herself running from the bad guy in the abandoned building.

We took a look at the old gas chromatograph which Mr. Prince opened up so I could see the columns inside. He pointed out the injector port, the Y-splitter and the flame ionization detector. I've read about the machines and I've seen pictures in both lectures and in books, but this was the first time I'd ever seen one up close.

As an aside, I'm always amazed when I see a machine that performs a complex task and think about how someone dreamed it up. There is an elegance to the machine. If you understand how it works, when you look at the components you can see a genius at work.

We looked at the old refrigerator where blood samples were stored. We went to the intake room. We saw the room where samples were stored after they were tested. Then it was on to the new building.

As it turns out, through coaching soccer I know a couple of guys who work at the architecture firm that designed the new building. It is a stunning building both inside and out.

Since my ticket to the tour was a court order allowing me to see the machine that my client's blood sample was tested in and the room in which the machine was housed, I didn't get to see the storage areas in the new building.

Mr. Prince showed me how the biological hood worked -- it's almost like something out of Get Smart. I saw the autosampler and he showed me how he seals the vials that are placed in the autosampler for testing. Again, you can read about the process all you want and look at pictures until your heart's content, but it's no substitute for actually looking at the equipment.

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