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On Coffee Machines and Clinical Research

Posted by Brook White on Tue, Jun 04, 2013 @ 12:17 PM


If you know anything about Rho, you know that clinical research is our life. Strong science is the underpinning of everything we do here—from designing your clinical trial to integrating your data for submission to FDA…to evaluating our coffee machines. Yes, you heard us correctly. One of our statisticians used a bit of scientific experimentation to test whether or not the cream in a coffee machine was spoiled. Taking science too far? We think not. 

Recently, we’ve been trying out some new coffee machine options. Following his use of one of the new coffee machines, Senior Biostatistician Henry “Tee” Bahnson posted the following in the employee announcement section of our internal website:

“After hearing reports that the cream [in the new coffee machine] was bad, I did a quick experiment to test some hypotheses.  The results are attached (see image below) but the conclusions are that the coffee is probably fine to drink if you don't mind it being acidic.  Also, the cream is not spoiled; the acidic coffee is what is causing it to curdle . . .  so please don't throw out the perfectly good cream or acidic coffee.

factorial coffee experiment

  • In the above factorial experiment you can see that the new coffee machine appears to be causing the cream to curdle
  • The rows and columns represent the two factors in this experiment (type of coffee maker and type of cream)
  • The first row is from the new coffee machine and has the curdled cream. The second row is from the coffee maker in the 3rd floor break room. The coffee curdles regardless of type of cream in the new coffee machine but not in the regular machine; therefore, the cream is probably fine and the new coffee machine is likely causing the cream to curdle. This is probably happening because the coffee is too acidic. A quick Google search turned up this explanation

Disclaimer: The experiment was under powered, the p-value is not significant, but I still believe the results.”

In case you are wondering, Tee isn’t the only Rho employee predisposed to a scientific view of the world. Project Director Brett Gordon responded with:

“I basically conducted a similar experiment at [a local coffee and pastry shop] in Durham last year. Their house blend does not curdle cream, but their Ethiopian coffee does every time, regardless of how fresh the cream is… again, due to acidity of the coffee. So there’s independent confirmation of your hypothesis.”

So, yes, we admit it. We are passionate about science. It’s part of everything we do, and we plan to keep it that way.

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