ETE research continuous despite the Corona virus

Published on
November 26, 2020

Corona has crippled large parts of our society. Especially during the first wave in March and April, many sectors were partially or completely closed down. At Wageningen UR, research activities were reduced, while some labs were even closed altogether. But at ETE, labs remained open and research continued, albeit at a slower pace. Due to a tight planning, good agreements among researchers, and the willingness to stick to the rules, the ETE labs could remain open.

Modutech during Corona times

When the Corona outbreak occurred in early spring 2020, rules and regulations were put in place in the whole country to try to subdue the virus. Society went in a partial lock down and suffered the economic and social consequences. Many Universities shut down their teaching facilities, and went over to online lessons. Many research labs were closed as well and research came to a stop. However, ETE labs remained open and scientists continued their research. ‘Closing down our labs would have resulted in disastrous consequences for our research’, Operational Manager Vinnie de Wilde says. ‘This would have destroyed our bacterial cultures that sometimes took more than year to grow.’ Therefore, ETE took a great effort to continue the lab activities, within the limits of the Corona rules. And with success. Now we are in de middle of a second wave, activities still continue.

Continue lab activities

There were some challenges however, to comply with the Corona rules and still keep the labs operational. ‘We had to deal with a limited capacity which was determined using the capacity of the air installation in the room in combination with the 1.5-metre distance measure’, Laboratory Team Leader, Femke Rambags, says. ‘The fact that we have multiple labs, between which people went back and forth, while different numbers of people were allowed in each lab, was an extra complication.’ The sample-preparation lab and the instrumental lab were allowed a maximum of seven or three people, while in MODUTECH 10 people could be present at the same time.

Designated work places

To deal with the limited capacity, scientists only performed relatively short
activities in labs with a smaller number of people allowed. The tables were
divided into designated work spaces, marked with red-white tape on the floor. In addition, researchers were split-up in a morning and an afternoon group. This way, everybody had the opportunity to work daily on their experiments. This required an excellent planning however, and setting priorities in the experimental activities.

To reduce the lab pressure even further, a huge software update that allowed researchers to view and process their analytical data on their own computer, was also realized. De Wilde: ‘This update was already planned, but we speeded up its implementation.’ Also took a huge step was taken in giving on-line digitalized instructions for new students, regarding instrument operations, lab safety and rules.

The sample preparation lab with designated work spaces marked with tape
The sample preparation lab with designated work spaces marked with tape

Safety culture

Despite all efforts, especially students in the end-phase of their research may suffer delays. This is particularly difficult for those with expiring Visa. However, the university is trying to solve these problems for them. Overall, de Wilde and Rambags are very satisfied how the lab activities are continued in a safe and Corona-proof way, also now a second Corona wave has hit society once more. ‘I want to stress that we are able to do this thanks to the efforts of our employees and researchers too’, de Wilde says. ‘Our safety culture, with many rules and regulation clearly pays off in Corona time. I really appreciate their cooperation and willingness to stick to the rules!’