Power secure for researchers

November 27, 2003, vol. 28, no. 7
By Diane Luckow

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When the power went out in eastern Canada Aug. 14, many university researchers were concerned about experiments that rely on a constant source of power to maintain, for example, specific temperatures.

For Ryerson University assistant professor of chemistry and biology Mario Estable, the blackout spelled potential disaster.

His research depends on genetically engineered cell lines, developed over 10 years, that he keeps at -85 centigrade in a chest freezer in his lab.

When the power went out, the temperature in the chest freezer began to rise. Only the last-minute efforts of a maintenance and operations manager, Rick Pews, saved the day.

Pews obtained a generator and managed to rig a cable up to the third-floor lab window in order to plug in the freezer.

Could SFU researchers suffer the same fate?

Highly unlikely, says Sam Dahabieh, SFU director of facilities management at the Burnaby campus, where most scientific research labs are located. “The majority of buildings on campus are provided with emergency generation - enough for life safety requirements such as emergency lighting, and for essential activities such as research science, the computer centre and other critical operations on campus.” The animal care facility has 100 per cent backup power in the event of a blackout.

While current campus electrical demand is about 7.5 megawatts, the total emergency power capacity in house is close to 50 per cent of that, with emergency power generators turning on within six to 12 seconds.

“It is gratifying to see academics take an interest in this issue,” says Dahabieh, “Many aren't aware of the work that goes on behind the scenes to service the academic and research community.” He encourages researchers to contact facilities management if they are concerned about power supply to critical research projects.

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