Maintaining optimal environmental conditions in core facilities is a challenge

Setting up and managing core facilities at research institutes is complex and the specific requirements vary by field. However, some challenges are shared across different facilities. Here we learn how a team at DZNE developed a novel room concept for shared resource laboratories.
Maintaining optimal environmental conditions in core facilities is a challenge
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This post has been co-authored by Hans-Ulrich Fried, Service Leader of the Light Microscope Facility, DZNE; Christian Kukat, Head of FACS & Imaging Core Facility, Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing; and Eugenio Fava, Head of Core Research Facilities & Services, DZNE.

For numerous years, research institutes have been grappling with the management of complex and expensive research equipment through the consolidation of centralized platforms, commonly referred to as core facilities or shared resource laboratories (SRLs). In core facilities, the equipment is maintained by dedicated staff and users from the institute or even external institutions have access to these instruments. Due to the highly complex nature of the instrumentation, core facilities have specific requirements for the laboratory environment they occupy. While the specific requirements may vary across diverse fields such as light or electron microscopy, medical imaging, proteomics, genomics, metabolomics, mass or flow cytometry, the challenges persist, unified by the main factors of room layout, temperature, humidity, vibration, dust, noise, and media supply.

Navigating the challenges: striving for optimal solutions

There is an ongoing discussion among people working in core facilities and members of laboratories housing complex instrumentation on how best to meet these challenges. Notably, light microscopy facilities have emerged as well-known examples within this domain, necessitating meticulous attention to detail during the design of their laboratory space, owing to the rapid advancements in microscopy technologies. Anyone who wants to take part in these discussions can actively contribute through platforms such as German BioImaging (GerBI-GMB, Society for Microscopy and Image Analysis) or international societies such as Global BioImaging and QUAREP-LiMi (Quality Assessment and Reproducibility for Instruments & Images in Light Microscopy).

Introducing an innovative room concept

Despite general considerations and requirements having been discussed and published, there is still a lack of comprehensive insights into the implementation of these requirements.

In a recent publication, we report on a novel room concept for a light microscopy core facility established at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Bonn, Germany. Our data shed light on the efficacy of this concept, elucidating how it successfully ensures the maintenance of a stable room temperature and minimal vibrations, crucial for the optimal functioning of delicate instrumentation. We also provide examples of how our key concerns can be addressed by converting existing standard laboratory space into a core facility (Kukat et al., 2023).

By providing a detailed account of our approach and presenting concrete data on its performance, we aim to invigorate the ongoing discourse within the scientific community. We believe that such data-driven validation of performance will streamline the planning of core facilities from room layout to budget needed to maintain a particular set of complex instrumentation for core facility staff, professional laboratory space planners, and administration alike.

Below we provide more details and also make sure to watch our video showing the light microscopy facilities.

The novel room concept

Central to the design of our light microscopy facility rooms was a meticulous assessment of the anticipated heat generation, the projected number of instrumentation and users, and the most stringent room requirements dictated by the intended instrumentation (i.e., a temperature stability of +/- 1°C and a floor vibration of less than 12.5 μm/s). To mitigate the heat production in the microscope rooms, we allocated space in the adjoining corridors to accommodate most of the heat-generating equipment. By implementing heavy-duty equipment shelves at the walls in the corridors directly adjacent to the microscope setups, and connecting them to the microscopes through strategically positioned windows and cable openings, we effectively minimized heat buildup within the primary laboratory space. The corridors are cooled by high-capacity conditioning cabinets.

The air conditioning of the rooms was based on the concept of exchanging the room air with fresh air that was only slightly, about 1 °C, cooler than the desired set temperature (22 °C). This was achieved by a large forced air-cooling device with up to 50x room volume air changes per hour during periods of heightened heat generation. To prevent drafts which negatively affect system stability and user comfort, large textile-based ductwork distribution systems were used (Figure 1).

Photo of a room of the light microscope facility with large textile-based ductwork from the air conditioning system.
Figure 1: A room of the light microscope facility with large textile-based ductwork from the air conditioning system.

Moreover, our efforts to reduce the impact of vibration artifacts were multifaceted, entailing the installation of conditioning cabinets and forced air-cooling devices on specialized anti-vibration mats and spring feet mounts. Recognizing the role of internal elements within the microscope setup as potential sources of vibration, we strategically housed these components in adjacent custom designed 19” racks, effectively isolating their vibrations from the main instrument. We designed the 19” racks with six individual power circuits, each with six power sockets and gas valves for all necessary gaseous media (Figure 2). To supply the racks with electrical power and media, they were connected to electricity and all media via sockets, which are placed on the walls close to the ceiling.

Photo showing 19” electronic rack with electrical power (at the back) and media supply (valves at the front), they were connected on the top to electricity and all media via sockets on the walls close to the ceiling.
Figure 2: 19” electronic rack with electrical power (at the back) and media supply (valves at the front), they were connected on the top to electricity and all media via sockets on the walls close to the ceiling.

An additional source of vibration is the walls of the microscope rooms. For example, when heavy doors are closed, they induce vibrations in the walls. To eliminate this source of vibration, lightweight doors were used that do not close automatically. To ensure that the doors would close automatically, as required by the local fire prevention concept we created an entrance room. The entrance room is slightly depressurized compared to both the adjacent microscope rooms and the rest of the building. It also served as a dust sink minimizing the amount of dust entering the microscope rooms.

To prove the effectiveness of the facility concept, we monitored and documented the temperature during microscope use in multiple positions per room. Our findings indicated a temperature variance of less than 0.5°C from the designated target temperature across various locations within the facility. Our large rooms showed less variation (0.04°C +/- 0.07°C, maximum 0.8°C) than the small rooms (0.3 °C +/- 0.2 °C, maximum 0.9 °C). In addition, comprehensive floor vibration measurements, conducted under full operational conditions of the air conditioning system, revealed a mean effective (RMS) vibration velocity of 5.9 +/- 2.5 μm/s, validating the efficacy of our vibration reduction strategies. Notably, our assessment of noise levels within the microscope rooms underscored the remarkably quiet environment maintained, registering at approximately 45 dB.

Watch a video of a short tour of the  the light microscopy facility at the DZNE in Bonn.

References:

Kukat C, Neumann E, Fava E, Fried H. A novel room concept for shared resource laboratories. Cytometry A. 2023 Sep 29. doi: 10.1002/cyto.a.24795.


Images by the light microscope facility at DZNE.

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