Moving a Lab
Tech’s latest interdisciplinary research facility, the Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB), is now open and illuminated on 10th Street. The past several months have been a flurry of activity as researchers and faculty members relocated into the new space and started breathing life into it.
But what exactly does it take to move a lab?
“You would think that you could just get a mover and ship everything and be done, and that hasn’t been the case,” said Erin Kirshtein, who manages research projects and grants for Associate Professor Thomas Barker’s Matrix Biology and Engineering Lab in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. “Every little section has its own little piece that needs multiple hands.”
Video: Moving a Lab
It’s not as simple as getting boxes and bubble wrap — although those are essential. Every lab requires multiple moves: a chemical move, physical move, and hot move, for things that need to maintain a specific temperature. It takes specialized moving companies, detailed inventories, and careful cataloging and handling of biological and chemical materials.
Some pieces of equipment, such as large microscopes, are moved by their manufacturers to ensure the delicate mechanisms are not damaged. One student in Melissa Kemp’s Redox Systems Biology Lab, affiliated with the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, spent weeks ahead of their move getting data from an instrument in case it was altered in the move.
“It’s sensitive and is going to need to be recalibrated so that she doesn’t end up with two sets of very different data because we accidentally bumped it,” said Linda Kippner, a research scientist, Ph.D. student, and move manager for the Kemp lab. “She’s been in every weekend for the past couple of months to finish that up, just in case.”
Every chemical container contains a barcode that must be scanned as it is finds its place in the new lab, telling precisely where it will be located — aisle A, cabinet one, top shelf.
Along the way, Meghan Ferrall, who managed the move for Associate Professor Manu Platt’s lab, found herself in a room stacked floor to ceiling with packed boxes — yet most of the lab was not even packed yet.
In a lab, even garbage gets special treatment during a move. In the hall near Ferrall is another cityscape of boxes, all neatly packed, only to be thrown away.
“It has to be packed so that movers can pick them up and take them to be incinerated,” she said.
There are also biosafety cabinets to move, and that requires more than just lifting with the legs. These cabinets are enclosed, ventilated spaces for safely working with potentially hazardous materials requiring a significant level of defined biosafety. So a crew from Safety Plus, a company that specializes in biological disaster management, is on hand to decontaminate the cabinets.
One crew member, Tom Hadden, is using a Bioquell machine — the same machine Safety Plus used when it decontaminated the airplanes that transported Ebola patients from Africa to Atlanta. “These have to be completely sterile,” he said.
Still, the biggest challenge for those who work in a lab is pausing the work at hand.
“What’s heartwrenching is stopping what you’re doing — bringing your research to a halt for at least a week and a half,” said Victoria Stefanelli, a doctoral student in the Coulter Department.