University
PhD student Maurits de Roo setting up a laboratory space

From chilly Nijenborgh to boiling Feringa

Tackling some teething problems

PhD student Maurits de Roo setting up a laboratory space
It’s light, it’s airy, and most of all, it’s brand new. The Feringa Building is definitely a step up for all the researchers that have just moved into it. But it does need a little tweaking here and there. ‘The temperature in my office rose to 26 degrees over the past few weeks.’
27 March om 12:04 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 27 March 2024
om 12:04 uur.
March 27 at 12:04 PM.
Last modified on March 27, 2024
at 12:04 PM.
Avatar photo

Door Rob van der Wal

27 March om 12:04 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 27 March 2024
om 12:04 uur.
Avatar photo

By Rob van der Wal

March 27 at 12:04 PM.
Last modified on March 27, 2024
at 12:04 PM.

Maurits de Roo is very happy. At Nijenborgh 4, the PhD student of electrochemistry had been assigned a lab that was unsuitable for the kind of work he did. ‘We had to store equipment inside the fume hoods, which is not what they’re meant for. Plus, they weren’t even big enough for all our stuff.’

The move meant he and his group got the opportunity to design the laboratories exactly the way they wanted to. ‘We have much deeper workbenches, which means we can set up all the equipment.’ The blueprints indicating where all the equipment was supposed to go were designed in consultation with all the lab users, he says. ‘You have to get it right the first time.’

Many of the other people who made the switch to the new building over the past three weeks are just as happy as De Roo. The Feringa Building has more space, more light, and in particular, brand-new workspaces. Compared to the leaky windows and dark hallways of the old, energy-inefficient Nijenborgh 4, it’s paradise.

I think we’ll have to get some shelves at IKEA

‘The new labs are lovely and building management has been really quick to respond to issues, like keys that had been mixed up’, says professor of molecular inorganic chemistry Wesley Browne. ‘Although I am a little worried about the capacity of the fridges in the new building. We may not have enough room to store our lunches’, he says, smiling.

‘They’re installing and hooking up new equipment every day. It’s great to see’, says PhD student and research technician Mart Salverda.

Fishbowl

But even as they celebrate the great advantages of the building, the researchers are also encountering the first few teething problems. Sometimes it’s just small things, like the lack of storage space. ‘What’s weird is that they put a bunch of boxes with stuff here, but there’s nowhere to put it’, says De Roo. ‘I think we’ll have to get some shelves at IKEA.’

There are also slightly more serious issues: staff and students using the rooms around the atrium behind the main entrance are kind of in a fishbowl: because they’re not allowed to cover the windows, anyone outside can see what they’re doing. 

Then there are the connecting doors that all require a key card. It’s obviously for security reasons, but it also means that students can’t just pop by to see their study adviser. The labs can also only be accessed with a key card.

Improvise

More alarmingly, last week saw a spate of ventilation issues. They’re caused by the calibrations to the technical systems in the building, says UG spokesperson Elies Wempe-Kouwenhoven. They’re blowing in too much air, which is making a lot of noise in the workspaces. This also means the fume hoods, which should be extracting air, aren’t quite working the way they should, either.

Justin Ye, professor of device physics of complex materials, is therefore forced to improvise. At his lab, he can only use the glove box, a fume hood used for experiments, when he hangs the exhaust pipe from the window. 

You can never have a solid plan on ventilation in one go

It’s a bit of a hassle, but there’s no danger, he emphasises. The exhaust is almost pure nitrogen, which also exists in the air all around us. ‘Nitrogen only suffocates you if it’s the only thing you breathe in.’

PhD student of photophysics and opto-electronics David Garcia and his group are also dealing with some ventilation issues. They also ran into some communication problems with various parties during the move, which meant they suffered a slight delay. They’re now unable to start using their new clean rooms, spaces that keep out all the ‘dirt’ from outside. ‘Fortunately, the clean rooms in the old building are still available’, says Garcia.

Browne gets how problems like these arise. ‘You can never have a solid plan on ventilation in one go. You always need to tweak a bit.’ 

Adjustments

People are currently hard at work to ‘tweak’ the ventilation system, says Wempe-Kouwenhoven. ‘They’ve fine-tuned the software settings and are keeping most of the doors in the building shut. This restricts the airflow within the spaces, which means the installation doesn’t have to work as hard to still be safe and effective.’ 

No group can move if it can’t be done safely, adds managing director Esther Marije Klop. ‘In some cases, that means we have to make adjustments and wait to move a lab’s chemicals while the rest of a group’s equipment has already made the journey. We’re in close contact with each of the groups that have already moved or will soon be moving.’

I no longer have to leave to cool down in my lab every ten minutes

Then there’s the temperature inside the building. ‘It rose to anywhere between 26 and 29 degrees Celsius in my office over the past few weeks, and there was no way to adjust it’, says Salverda. ‘Fortunately, I spent most of my time in the lab.’ 

Elsewhere in the building, office temperatures were too low. ‘Some of my group’s members propped open the door from the hallway to the stairwell to let in the heat.’

Salverda isn’t the only one in a hot office, said staff council member Tjalling Canrinus during faculty council meeting. ‘Staff complains that it can become very warm, up to 32 degrees. People get sleepy.’

Improvement

The university is already working on a solution. Staff did receive an email beforehand that said that it could take up to a year before the building had been completely ‘fine-tuned’. But, Klop said during the faculty council meeting, it’s being monitored closely and it shouldn’t be taking an entire year before the place is comfortable for the researchers to work in.

Salverda has already noticed an improvement over the past week. ‘The temperature has gone down to 22 degrees and I have control over the thermostat now. Now I can spend more time organising my office instead of having to leave to cool down in my lab every ten minutes.’

He understands that things like this can happen when you move to an unfinished building. In spite of its flaws, the new building is loads better than the old one, he says. ‘The temperature is a lot more pleasant than it was at Nijenborgh the last two winters.’

Very happy

What else? So far, the move has been smooth. The people involved may be stressed out, says Klop, and they’re asking them for a lot of flexibility, problem-solving, and creativity. ‘But the overall things we hear from people who’ve moved into the Feringa Building is that it’s a beautiful building and a great place to work.’

De Roo recognises this. He had planned seven full days for his move, but thanks to thorough preparation, it looks like he won’t need them all. ‘Four or five days will probably be enough.’

Garcia is happy, too. Technicians are currently in and out of the labs at the Zernike Institute of Advanced Materials, putting together and setting up the final pieces of equipment. ‘Yesterday, we calibrated an atomic force microscope, and today, it’s fully functional.’‘There are some teething problems’, says Klop. ‘But most people have been understanding. They’re already looking to the future. In short, we’re very happy with our new building.’

Dutch