Magnet lab set for likely move

Alyssa Kroeten

Researchers at the University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Applications in Magnetic Resonance are shutting down the Tandem Accelerator Laboratory due to the collapse and reconstruction of the Interstate 35W bridge.

The University will close the lab – located 50 feet west of where the bridge fell – by the end of September because of health and safety issues, associate professor of Radiology and Director of CIA-MR Bruce Hammer said.

“We’re going to be in the middle of a heavy construction zone Ö (and) it’s not advisable to have students and faculty access the building,” Hammer said.

Kathleen O’Brien, vice president of University Services, said federal and state officials requested researchers remove the materials from the lab due to the bridge reconstruction.

While Hammer said O’Brien orchestrated the shutdown of the lab, O’Brien said she consulted the academic leadership involved with research in the facility as to what course of action should be taken.

“The most safe course was to remove hazardous materials Ö (and) to secure the building during the deconstruction of the bridge,” O’Brien said.

CIA-MR is home to three tesla magnets, which are used in research projects to help solve problems in engineering and the physical sciences. The lab has grants and contracts with biomedical companies, such as Medtronic, to help pay for the research.

“(The companies) give you funds to buy equipment Ö supplies Ö and to pay faculty and staff to do research for a project you propose,” Hammer said.

Yet in preparation for the closing of the lab, two of the magnets have been shut down and are being moved into storage, Hammer said.

“That means we have a robust contract research program that is essentially terminated,” he said.

Biophysical sciences and medical physics graduate student Beth Lusczek, who researches in the lab, said the lab shutdown is bad news for both contractors and their research.

“Our space shutdown is definitely not good for (our contractors),” she said. “Medtronic is trying to develop pacemaker technology that is MRI compatible Ö (and) uses our magnets to do it.”

Research projects requiring grants are postponed due to the closing of the lab. Researchers at CIA-MR cannot apply for funding because they do not have a facility to include in the “facilities description” section of the application.

“If you have no place to do the work, they’re not going to review the application,” Hammer said. “That’s a real issue for me Ö if I miss (the next deadline), I have to wait three more years to apply for it.”

In order to determine if a new location for the lab is available on campus, the University hired RSP Architects, a Twin Cities-based architectural firm to conduct a building evaluation and report of the specifications needed for such a facility.

Although University officials doubt the lab will be used during bridge construction, a decision will not be made until the results of the evaluation are released, University Real Estate Office director Sue Weinberg said.

Matt Stringfellow, senior project manager of capital planning and project management for the University, said several options, such as using the building for ongoing research or tearing it down, are being considered as the evaluation is completed.

While the results of the evaluation will not be available until October or November, admission to the building is not possible for researchers until bridge construction is complete, Stringfellow said.

In addition to the evaluation, RSP is generating a report with the specifications of what is needed to find alternative space for the lab. The document will then be given to real estate agents to see if there is any appropriate off-campus location to restart lab operations.

“As soon as we have that information, we will confirm (if) Ö there is no University-owned space that can accommodate (the lab),” Weinberg said. “We’re waiting for the specifications Ö to get a good understanding Ö because (Hammer’s) space need is fairly unique.”

Hammer said a few areas on campus have been discussed as possible new locations for the lab. The music education building is an ideal site for the magnets, but would require extensive renovation that would be paid by the University, Hammer said.

“The University Ö would be very hesitant to take (the renovations) Ö on themselves,” he said. “It’s expenses. It all boils down to dollars.”

If forced to relocate, researchers at the lab said they prefer a location on campus so students can be educated and work in the facility.

“If we’re off campus, that makes it more like a business rather than a University operation,” Hammer said. “(It) makes things much more difficult for both students and us.”

Going to the lab in the middle of the bridge collapse site has been stressful and draining, Lusczek said.

“If I knew what was going to happen I would make a plan for it, and it would be OK,” Lusczek said. “It’s frustrating not knowing what is going to happen to us.”

Hammer said the lab has done work with 19 different corporations and is an integral part of the community.

“Losing this resource isn’t just my problem Ö it’s really the University’s problem,” he said. “I’m still going to get a paycheck, but losing this facility is going to impact many programs around campus.”