Staying up all night, all in the name of soil science

The lab is very quiet at 5am, even with the vacuum pump humming along, EggBert the trustie old centrifuge rocking and rolling with our soil samples, and crickets screaming outside the lab windows. Things get a little fuzzy as the 24th straight hour of work creeps up, but for some reason, I am very awake and moving faster than I was 8 hours ago. We are making a big push here at La Selva. The goal was to collect soils from Atta cephalotes leaf cutter ant nests and non-nest controls (across a soil depth profile) from each site and get everything from the same site processed and extracted for soil nutrients in the same day. That means each soil sample undergoes rigorous prodding, getting weighed out for soil extractions, a year long soil incubation, and for future DNA, enzyme, and PLFA analyses. And everything is done in triplicate to cover our bases as these tropical soils are notoriously variable. No two places on the forest floor are the same. Hence the 5am lab work. I am in no way alone here - Nicole Trahan and Diego Dierick, postdocs on the Atta project, are here in various states of exhausted. Amanda Swanson and Soren Weber are graduate students in Mike Allen's lab and they are here to help as well as learn biogeochemistry techniques. Its a full lab and everyone is working very hard.  After a week of this grueling schedule with very little sleep, everyone is a little delirious. Soren has been singing non-stop for days. Nicole is laughing at her own jokes. Diego's hair is standing up straight (more than usual). Amanda remains calm and collected, an amazing feat considering the situation. I teeter between resolute single-mindedness to get things done and take on more work to lessen the load for everyone else and exhaustion as I also have the flu. In the end, everyone else takes on more work so I can get more sleep. But I think overall, its going well and in the end, we will have beautiful data. So its all worth in, in the name of science.