Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 5:37 am | Overcast 64º

 
 
 
 

UCSB LabRATS Program Takes Sustainability Into Science Labs, Saving Water and Reducing Waste

The LabRATS (Laboratory Resources, Advocates, and Teamwork for Sustainability) program at UCSB is driving the conversion of several campus labs to condensers that operate on a “closed loop” recirculating system in which water is recycled and reused.
The LabRATS (Laboratory Resources, Advocates, and Teamwork for Sustainability) program at UCSB is driving the conversion of several campus labs to condensers that operate on a “closed loop” recirculating system in which water is recycled and reused. (Sonia Fernandez / The UCSB Current photo)

Meet the condenser, an indispensable instrument for scientists in laboratories everywhere. Chemicals enter hot but exit cool, thanks to a constant flow of cold water. A “single-pass” condenser uses and dumps about a gallon per minute; so-called “closed-loop” models recirculate the same water indefinitely.

No wonder, then, that when it comes to water conservation, it’s a small device that can make a big difference.

At UC Santa Barbara, closed-loop condensers have replaced their single-pass predecessors in dozens of labs (there are more to come), making a major dent in campus water consumption.

The grant-supported push by UCSB’s ​LabRATS (Laboratory Resources, Advocates and Teamwork for Sustainability) has come to play a key role in the university’s overall efforts to save ever-more water.

“This has been a really big success for our program, and we’re really happy, particularly in the California drought situation, to have made a significant contribution,” said Amorette Getty, co-director of the 2005-launched LabRATS, who first got interested in lab sustainability while earning her doctorate in materials at UCSB.

“We are seeing momentum among the campus community to really start to make a difference in this area of lab sustainability,” she said.

With additional core focus areas in energy and material resources, the group also analyzes lab devices from an energy-efficiency perspective, from how much energy various devices burn and whether they’re being used in the most efficient way, to more efficient alternatives when replacement is necessary.

Similarly, said Getty, LabRATS seeks to ensure participating labs are “purchasing the most efficient and effective, and minimal, materials as possible, and disposing of them correctly on the back end.

“We want to make sure, for example, that no batteries are going into the landfill, and that as much that is recyclable gets to the recycling center,” Getty said. “So many types of things are coming into labs: pipettes, plastic, paper materials, metal materials, electronics and consumables of all kinds.

“Sustainability efforts are common in offices — paper is recycled, as are drink bottles and so on — but labs are frequently overlooked in terms of the amount of waste they produce, and they can be very big waste generators,” she said.

Guidance and assistance in lab waste management are among LabRATS’s many functions, which also include free sustainability assessments of campus labs that want them.

In addition, the group facilitates a surplus chemical exchange, part of UCSB Environmental Health & Safety, in its push to reduce chemical waste while saving money on materials.

In all these ways and more, LabRATS is now growing its efforts in sustainable networking and procurement, and the program aims to help researchers reduce their environmental impact by adapting recycling, energy management and sustainability best practices to the materials and processes used in laboratories.

Also central to its mission is improving safety, streamlining laboratory management and promoting both communication and resource sharing across campus labs.

Much of LabRATS’s work is in fact being led by some of UCSB’s greatest resources: undergraduate students. The program employs a small-but-mighty staff of student interns to coordinate with labs and researchers and to conduct research themselves on innovations in lab sustainability and potential improvements for labs on campus.

Among them this spring is Daniel Charette, a third-year pharmacology major who has been shepherding the implementation of single-pass condensers and, among other things, investigating efficient incubators for labs that use flies for research.

His interest in lab sustainability issues was piqued after a summer internship for a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, where he saw firsthand how badly such efforts are needed.

“You might go into a clean room for 30 seconds to turn a single knob, but you’re in a full gown and respirator that just gets thrown away — it’s pretty incredible, the waste,” said Charette, who was inspired by that experience to pursue a position with LabRATS.

“The potential savings to the environment from labs is pretty significant, and I wanted to do something to help. It’s something responsible and it’s research-related. It’s great.”

Shelly Leachman writes for the UCSB Office of Public Affairs and Communications.

 

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >