Moving a Lab

Moving a Lab

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

video moving a lab - click to play

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.

photo - Georgia Tech's Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB)

Georgia Tech's new Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB). Photo: Rob Felt

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.

photo - male student assembles moving boxes

John Nicosia, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, packs boxes to prepare for the Matrix Biology and Engineering Lab's physical move. Photo: Rob Felt.

photo - female student filling out label for moving boxes

Haylee Bachman, a graduate student in chemistry, takes inventory of the lab's chemical materials to prepare for their move from the Whitaker Building to the Engineered Biosystems Building. Photo: Rob Felt.

The seven-story, 218,914-square-foot EBB was designed with collaboration in mind. The building is arranged as a series of connecting research neighborhoods. Laboratories and research corridors are designed to encourage sharing of equipment, and researchers and administrators from multiple schools and departments are intentionally co-located to be in close proximity to one another.

“The biggest change for us will be who our neighbors are,” Stefanelli said. In the lab’s current space in the Whitaker Building, neighboring labs were all generally focused on biomedical engineering. New neighbors will include researchers focused on chemistry and molecular biology. “New expertise is always a positive in terms of having discussions of how you can move your project forward.”

Stair placement is even alternated on various floors to create movement throughout the building, with small, informal meeting areas near major stairwells to encourage impromptu conversations.

Now, the researchers are settling into their lab space in the shiny new $113 million facility. The stress of balancing world-class research with the need to go from Point A to Point B is subsiding.

“It’s good to be so close to the other labs that we’re already collaborating with,” Kippner said in her new office, which has more natural light than she had before. “It’s much more convenient now that we don’t have to trek across campus with our samples. Now all we have to do is walk down the hall or down a floor and we can have a discussion with our collaborators. This new building encourages collaborative research even more, and that will make our lives much easier.”

photo - collection of glass lab equipment on table

All materials that will be moved have to be properly labeled prior to being packed. Photo: Rob Felt.

photo - notebook with list of items and tasks

Haylee Bachman provides detailed notes on the chemical inventory of the lab. Photo: Rob Felt.


Writers: Kristen Bailey and Jerry Grillo
Photographer: Rob Felt
Digital Designer: Melanie Goux
Publication Date: Sept. 2015

Learn more about what it takes to move a lab from Georgia Tech Environmental Health and Safety.