Fresh Air: ORS, Facilities Management, Partner on Lab Improvements

By Roger AndersonJune 20, 2017

The Scheidt Research Group excels because of its chemistry.

As graduate students and postdoctoral fellows engage in dozens of experiments each day — working to use small organic molecules as catalysts in high-value chemical transformations for medicine and energy — the laboratory operates with a noted quietness and order.

“Chemistry is a beautiful science and delivers amazing technology, but it can be dangerous, too, which is why coordination, knowledge, and safety is such a vital part of the process,” says Karl Scheidt, chemistry and director of Center for Molecular Innovation and Drug Discovery. “The Office for Research and Department of Chemistry continue to provide resources that have had a transformative effect. Students see those efforts and understand that safety is paramount to everything we do; it’s become a part of the culture here.”

In 2016, Northwestern’s Office for Research Safety (ORS) provided more than 12,500 training sessions — an average of 3.5 per investigator at the University — with the most frequently acquired certifications in hazardous waste management, biological safety, laboratory safety, personal protective equipment, and bloodborne pathogens.

“The everyday things are important in Research Safety — lab visits, training, supplies, and hazardous waste services”, says Michael Blayney, ORS director. “But we especially enjoy the chance to add value — working with Louis and Rick in the Scheidt lab is an example of safer science at Northwestern.”

Focused on the synthesis of new compounds, graduate students Rick Betori and Louis Redfern worked with the Office for Research and Facilities Management to further enhance safety measures in the Scheidt lab.

The pair re-evaluated the ventilation near several instruments and found that there was room for improvement. Working with Blayney, Scheidt lab safety officer Mark Maskeri, and Lee Copeland in Facilities Management, new ventilation was installed and connected to a new enclosure.

“It was great to work with Northwestern’s safety community in helping make our workplace a safer and more comfortable environment,” says Betori. “Small steps really add up, and ORS has always helped facilitate these improvements.”

Scheidt was impressed with the result, too.

“Our lab is not just creating pathbreaking compounds; we are also training young people to become scientists,” he says. “It’s important for them to learn to recognize when situations are potentially dangerous and how best to react. By being vigilant, we create an environment where safety remains core to the process.”

“The best problems in health and safety are those that never occur; addressing a challenge in design means less money, time, and angst than dealing with it afterwards,” says Blayney. “We are committed to that goal in our work with Facilities Management and our schools.”