Proposed light rail could halt university research

One of the UniversityâÄôs most important research facilities is tied to the tracks, and although the train is a long way off, itâÄôs coming. The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility , located in the basement of Nils Hasselmo Hall , is home to seven super conducting magnets (14,000 times stronger than the average refrigerator magnet), which researchers use to study cancer, AIDS, AlzheimerâÄôs, muscular dystrophy and many other diseases. The lab is extremely sensitive to vibrations and electro-magnetic interference, meaning side effects of a light-rail train rumbling down Washington Avenue less than 100 feet away could be a serious problem, facility manager Beverly Ostrowski said. Construction of the Central Corridor light-rail line is scheduled to begin in spring 2010, and the train could produce vibrations and EMI that may shake up sensitive University research. âÄúWe were told that our worst-case scenario is a DC-powered light rail train,âÄù Ostrowski said. âÄúAnd now weâÄôre there.âÄù The University and the Metropolitan Council are working hard to lessen vibration so research isnâÄôt disrupted, said Leslie Krueger, the chief of staff for University Services. The Metropolitan Council has put aside $3.4 million to mitigate vibration specifically for NMR machines, Krueger said. In addition to experts hired by the Metropolitan Council, the University is in the process of hiring consulting agencies to test for vibration and EMI. But Ostrowski said moving the lab is probably the only viable option. However, the University has not yet made plans to set up a new facility. There has never been a high-tech NMR lab located so close to a light rail, she said. But moving an NMR lab is no easy task, and it would take a long time to completely relocate. 3M donated a new machine to the NMR in November, which took several months to install, Ostrowski said. ItâÄôs also difficult to find the proper facilities to house the magnets. Because they are so strong, they cannot be close to any metal objects, Ostrowski said. The super magnets attract more than metal âÄî they also draw in money. Currently, the lab holds $110 million in grants and is used by 160 researchers from 22 different departments. The lab has supported breakthroughs in HIV research, cancer treatment, heart failure research and drug design. These four breakthroughs alone reeled in $20 million of external funding last year. But if the lab has to be moved, it could create serious issues for grant-hunting researchers University-wide, Ostrowski said. âÄúThe technique is so applicable to so many things, people ask what disease areas do you study, well you could pick one and we have it,âÄù Ostrowski said. Many research experiments would fail if they were put on hold and moved to a new facility. The magnets run experiments 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she said. Ostroski said sheâÄôs worried that if research in the lab is delayed for too long, they will begin to lose out on crucial grant money, and top researchers might even take their work elsewhere. âÄúIf we have to shut down for even a few months, someone could lose a grant,âÄù she said. âÄúThe faculty who work in our facility are anxious. They have put their careers in their grants and their research and this is their life.âÄù Surgery professor Gregory Beilman is working with Ostroski on a new research project that deals with how to design therapies for hemorrhagic shock . Beilman and his team earned a $2.5 million grant for the project, and he said it would be impossible to execute the research without access to the NMR lab. âÄúGod willing the crick donâÄôt rise and we have NMR resources to do the research for the entire period of the study,âÄù Beilman said. Along with assisting in research, the lab also hosts two classes that are open to undergraduate students. Ostrowski said it is unique to have such a high-tech lab available to so many people. Graduate student Grayson Wawrzyn said the high quality of the facilities was one of the major reasons he decided to study at the University. He hasnâÄôt used the NMR lab yet, but said he plans to for future research in structural biology. âÄúThey preached a lot about how accessible the facilities were,âÄù Wawrzyn said. âÄúI think it would be extremely inconvenient for structural biology students if they were moved.âÄù