Students can’t come in yet
Laboratories open for longer to make up for lost time
For PhD student Marco van der Noort, it’s both nice and strange to be back in the lab. The molecular biologist studies how substances are transported in bacterial cells. ‘I’m thrilled that I can continue my experiments. But it’s also weird because I’m here alone all day.’
He doesn’t interact with any colleagues, because there aren’t any around. ‘My lunch break is so boring. My day is just eight hours of silence. At least I’m getting a lot of work done.’
Prepare at home
All the labs at the Faculty of Science and Engineering reopened on May 11. Before that, they could only be used for corona-related research during the two months of the lockdown. ‘But all that research was on an extremely small scale’, says biochemistry professor Bert Poolman.
He supervises a group of approximately twenty researchers, mainly PhD students and postdocs. Van der Noort is part of his group, as well. ‘They’re slowly allowed into the lab again, but there are some strict conditions’, says Poolman. The research has to be prepared at home and the scientists have to reserve a time slot.
The lab can only be used for the necessary equipment measurements. Only two people are allowed in labs over twenty-five square feet; under that, only one person is allowed in at a time. ‘There’s a maximum occupancy of 25 percent.’
PhD student Eleonora Bailoni, also part of Poolman’s group, thinks it’s all very strange. ‘I’m alone all the time and even when my co-workers are here, we have to stay away from each other. We have to thoroughly clean everything. That’s stressful since we’re working with time constraints. But I’m mainly happy, obviously.’
Poolman realised back in February that the UG labs would probably be closing. ‘I was reading the news and figured it wouldn’t end well.’ He had his group speed up their experiments. ‘It helped a little, but we’ll probably have to make up for lost time.’
The labs will stay open for longer to allow the researcher to get as much work done as possible. ‘We start at seven in the morning and keep going until eight at night’, says Poolman. The labs are also open on Saturdays, and the Sunday is being considered. ‘I love watching how hard everyone is working. I really appreciate that.’
Regular students aren’t allowed into the lab just yet. ‘We hope to hear more about that soon. As it currently stands, they’ll be allowed back in September.’
Everyone has lost valuable research time, says Poolman. ‘That’s especially bothersome for PhD students who’ve nearly finished their research, or postdocs whose contracts are ending.’
The shutdown won’t affect Van den Noort or Bailoni much; they only just started their PhD studies. ‘It could have been much worse’, says Bailoni. ‘These two months haven’t been great, but at least I have plenty of time left to finish my research.’