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UIowa to Assess Lab Damage

Photonics.com
Jun 2008
IOWA CITY, Iowa, June 18, 2008 -- It will be months before the full extent of flood damage sustained by the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories (IATL) is known, a University of Iowa official said Wednesday. The facility remains closed, with water from the nearby Iowa River in its ground floor labs.

"No damage has been assessed yet, but there are specific pieces of equipment we are worried about," Jordan Cohen, interim vice president of research, told Photonics.com Wednesday. "It depends on how high off the ground these critical components were."

Some individual pieces of equipment on the ground floor are worth "close to six figures," he said. There are approximately 10 labs on the ground floor where about seven investigators working primarily in optics, chemistry engineering, photochemistry and sensors are located, he said. The first floor of the four-story building remains under two feet of water.

While the building is sound structurally, damage to the utilities could slow the researchers' return, Cohen said. "Once the utilities are back, we're roughly estimating it will be two, three or four weeks until people could get back inside."

Once crews can get inside, decontamination procedures will in large part determine whether equipment can be repaired or will need to be replaced, he said, after being exposed to the river's murky water.

The IATL, located near the banks of the Iowa River that winds through campus, is home to the Optical Science and Technology Center, the Microfabrication Facility, the Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Institute and the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at UI. Faculty conducting research in the labs include groups from the departments of chemistry, physics, chemical and biochemical engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering, among others. The 124,439-sq-ft building was designed by renowned architect Frank O. Gehry.

Equipment housed in the Optical Science and Technology Center includes a variety of novel laser systems (including widely tunable, ultrafast lasers), materials growth and characterization facilities, optoelectronics device fabrication and characterization, UHV surface science laboratories, and supersonic molecular beam time-of-flight mass spectrometer systems.

The Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Institute, established in 2006, focuses on issues related to nanoscience and nanotech in environmental processes and human health, as well as the fundamental properties of nanomaterials.

The first floor of the building contains nearly $50 million in equipment, some of which couldn't be disassembled and moved. Some machines could take up to a year to put back together, Joe Kearney, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences associate dean for research, told the campus newspaper, the Daily Iowan. Kearney said this month's flood has been far worse for the IATL than the major flood in 1993, with about 200 faculty members affected from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences alone.

TechLab-before.jpgTechLab-after.jpg

The Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories (IATL) building at the University of Iowa is located along the Iowa River. In the undated image at left, the IMU pedestrian footbridge can be seen in the foreground extending over the river. At right, taken June 15, the footbridge is almost completely submerged as the river nears its peak of 31.5 ft. (Photos: Tim Schoon, Office of University Relations, The University of Iowa)

"The only good news is that we knew this water was coming, so there was a lot of sandbagging," Cohen said. Water levels rising at, and then overflowing, the reservoir about eight miles away gave them some time. "There was a great effort to move a lot of equipment that could be moved -- to higher floors, or up off the floor," Cohen said. "There was a fantastic response from students, and from the community as well as the university. Some of the sandbag walls were as high as 10 feet."

It could be months before some researchers can start working in their labs again, and that delay could mean the possible loss of research funding, as many grants are designated for a specific duration. University officials have been contacting grant sources to ask for more flexibility in those contracts, and many agencies have become somewhat more flexible since Hurricane Katrina, Cohen said.

Complicating things is the interdisciplinary nature of the labs, with funding, equipment and researchers coming from various departments and colleges within the university.

The flood will also affect a number of graduate students who work in the labs. "It will mostly likely cause a hiatus in their doctoral program work, no question," Cohen said.

According to the Iowa City Web site, the US Army Corp of Engineers said the river reached its peak -- 31.53 ft -- June 15. As of June 18, the river level was 29.95 ft. The previous record, set in 1993, was 28.5 ft; flood stage is 22 ft.

"To give residents a perspective of the enormity of this flood, only by the end of this week will Iowa City see river levels comparable to the 100-year flood of 1993," the Web site stated.

According to a flood update Wednesday on the University of Iowa Web site, the IATL is among 20 buildings on campus that remain completely closed due to flooding. All classes on campus were canceled this week and nonessential personnel told to stay home.

UI Senior Vice President and Treasurer Doug True told the Press-Citizen that the university has a $1 billion facility insurance policy, including $250 million in flood insurance. Damages from the 1993 flood were estimated at more than $5 million.

Classes for summer session are scheduled to resume June 23, but the fall semester remains up in the air, officials said. Facilities housing art, theater and music were particularly hard hit, with water as high as the stop signs in that part of campus.

For more information, visit: www.uiowa.edu


GLOSSARY
nanotechnology
The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
optoelectronics
A sub-field of photonics that pertains to an electronic device that responds to optical power, emits or modifies optical radiation, or utilizes optical radiation for its internal operation. Any device that functions as an electrical-to-optical or optical-to-electrical transducer. Electro-optic often is used erroneously as a synonym.
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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