NIH lab space plagued by vibrations

Sensitive instruments may be unusable in large sections of the new gerontology and drug addiction research facilities

By | October 18, 2006

More than a third of the laboratory space in a new, $250 million intramural biomedical research center for the National Institute on Aging (NIA) may be unusable for the intended research because of problems with excessive building vibration. The center, which is being constructed at Johns Hopkins University's Bayview Campus in Southeast Baltimore, suffers from vibrations from a variety of sources, including elevators and ventilation shafts. The problem could hamper use of more than 150 microscopes, lasers, cell counters, imagers, and other pieces of equipment, jeopardizing research activities in up to 35 percent of the planned laboratory space, scientists and consultants warn. The 10-story facility is intended to replace NIH's nearby three-story Gerontology Research Center, providing more than 500,000 square feet of laboratory, vivarium, clinical research, library, and office space for nearly 1,000 scientists and staff from NIA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). "The issue involves moving instruments from a stable environment where they are currently installed and performing well to an environment where they may not function at all because of the vibration," said Michael Nymick, Mid-Atlantic regional sales manager for Carl Zeiss MicroImaging, Inc., which has supplied microscopes to NIA. Of most concern, Nymick told The Scientist, are the laser scanning confocal microscopes. These precision instruments, which cost between $250,000 and $500,000, produce high-resolution images and three-dimensional reconstructions from thick specimens at various depths. Engineering data provided to NIA scientists prior to construction of the building indicated vibration levels in some areas of the facility would exceed what isolation tables could handle, Nymick said, based on discussions he had with scientists. "There are some extremes when the tables will not work at all," he said. A report this week in the Baltimore Sun said scientists began expressing their concerns to NIH managers before construction began in October 2004. "The desire to spare costs has led to a building design in which the top four floors are essentially unusable for biologic research or they lack sufficient flexibility to adjust to changing requirements," they wrote in May 2004, according to The Sun. "The NIH is aware of the vibration issues in the Bayview building that would affect certain types of highly specialized research instrumentation," NIH spokesman John Burklow said in a statement to The Scientist. "We are identifying the specific areas of the building that will not accommodate such research. Given NIH's critical need for biomedical research space, we will be able to make full use of the building with other types of science." NIA Scientific Director Dan L. Longo was not available for comment. The gerontology-related research planned for the building involves studies of normal aging as a risk factor for heart disease; animal studies of caloric restrictions in the development and potential prevention of disease; and investigations of stability of personality in adulthood and later, according to an NIH news release distributed when construction began. In addition to various types of microscopes, other planned equipment includes balances, incubators, centrifuges, electrophysiology and other imaging systems, cell sorters, microinjection systems, phosphoimagers, DNA sequencers, mass spectrometers, microarray scanners, real-time PCR machines, nuclear magnetic response spectrometers, functional and high-pressure liquid chromatography instruments, and spectrophotomers, Calvin Jackson, NIH's news media branch chief, told The Scientist in an e-mail. Originally planned for this fall, completion of the facility is now scheduled for the first quarter of 2007, according to the NIH Web site. Researchers who had planned to move into the facility are waiting to hear when and if they will be able to do so. Ted Agres Links within this article: Biomedical research center Intramural research programs at Gerontology Research Center, NIA Carl Zeiss MicroImaging Inc. J. Rockoff, "New lab built for NIH vibrates," The Baltimore Sun, Sunday Oct. 15, 2006,0,5809862.story?coll=bal-home-headlines Clinical research at Gerontology Research Center, NIA "National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins University Mark Partnership for New Biomedical Research Center," NIH press release, Oct. 12, 2004 Biomedical Research Center at Bayview


October 19, 2006

The Baltimore Sun's report ..."The desire to spare costs has led to a building design in which the top four floors are essentially unusable for biologic research or they lack sufficient flexibility to adjust to changing requirements," is symptomotic of the trend where "East is West and West is East, and the twain shall never meet" (with due apologies to Kipling). Sparing costs in research? Such things used to happen elsewhere, not in America.

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