U research facility seeks relocation

The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility needs to be moved due to the light rail.

Andre Eggert

When Central Corridor light-rail construction begins on Washington Avenue next spring, a research facility located barely 30 feet away in Nils Hasselmo Hall faces serious consequences.

The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility, which houses sensitive equipment, will be unable to perform experiments with the increased electromagnetic interference and vibrations that construction and future light rail will bring.

Because of this, the University of Minnesota Board of Regents will consider a $21.4-million project to move the facility away from the light-rail line. The plan includes the renovation of a parking garage and purchase of new research magnets.

The NMR facility brings in more than $110 million in research funding to the University each year and supports more than 200 scientists, said John Merritt, spokesman for the Office of Vice President for Research.

Converting the Mayo Garage into a research facility would cost the University $13.6 million. An additional $5.8 million would be for the purchase of additional magnets. The remaining money is for additional costs such as waterproofing, according to regents documents.

Once construction is complete, the new facility will have room for 12 magnets, according to the documents. Six will come from the current NMR facility, two are planned to be purchased and another four are planned for purchase at a later time.

The majority of the money is coming from technology commercialization revenue, Merritt said.

Should the regents approve the measure, construction will begin this month and be completed by August.

Over the past few years, consultants have told the University the magnets need to be at least 300 feet from the light rail to function properly, said NMR facility manager Beverly Ostrowski.

“The instruments are high-field magnets which are incompatible with vibrations and with electromagnetic interference from the light rail,” she said.

With the move, most of the magnets would be at least 350 feet away from the light rail, Ostrowski said.

Many of the NMR facultyâÄôs projects relate to medicine. The magnets have helped with research for AlzheimerâÄôs, muscular dystrophy and HIV, among other diseases.

The purchase of new magnets is necessary because these machines are built with the intention of never being moved, Ostrowski said. Some are not expected to work again âÄî including some that were built and welded in their current room.

Of those that do survive, their trip from Hasselmo Hall to the renovated Mayo Garage will be a long one âÄî from shut down to restart, the entire moving process will take three to six months, Ostrowski said. Before the magnets are moved, the newly purchased magnets will be installed at the new facility to prevent research downtime as much as possible.

The magnets run at temperatures as low as 450 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, Merritt said.

With all of the money and manpower invested in the NMR facility, Ostrowski said the construction of the new facility is vital.

The project “is to preserve a critical piece of our research infrastructure,” she said.