Latest Update from Director David Payne

Research Complex has continued to operate successfully throughout the pandemic. Further to the Prime Minister’s announcement on 4th January 2021, we will be looking at reducing the number of casual users/visitors coming into the building (with the exemption for visitors/casual users for core Covid-19 research) in an effort to protect the full time researchers at Research Complex.

We have utilised an online occupancy management system (Cloudbooking) which enable us to manage user demand and space. We are constantly keeping it under review and now have bookable spaces within RCaH available between the hours of 7am – 6pm (core hours) – in two shifts and then out of hours (6pm – 12am). We are trying to find a balance between a secure and productive working environment, and reducing the possibility for infection and transmission of Covid-19 (particularly the new variant) within the Research Complex. We will continue to support you and your efforts to complete your research projects, and if you have any specific concerns, please do contact us.

There has been significant positive feedback to how RCaH has enabled work to continue throughout the pandemic. We have continued to support the Rosalind Franklin Institute, who have recently demonstrated that modified nanobodies from llamas show great promise in treatments against the disease.[1] Through PPUK we have also supported research led by the University of Oxford on understanding the antibody response to COVID-19.[2] Scientists working at both Research Complex and the Diamond Light Source quickly determined the structure of the spike proteins of the virus, results that have been shared quickly and freely, enabling scientists from around the world to better understand the virus. Research Complex has made a demonstrable scientific impact in the response to the pandemic.

There remain challenges around current working conditions. Recirculation of the air has been switched off to the offices (the laboratories receive multiple fresh fair changes per hour) and we are using open windows to increase ventilation. This has become problematic now it is winter, but one of the best mechanisms we have against COVID-19 is ventilation, and particularly as this new variant is considerably more transmissible. We will also pilot the use of CO2 monitors in offices as a proxy measure for ventilation. This is currently being trialled in CLF.

Additional mitigations are currently being put in place. This includes a regime of testing for COVID-19 RNA in saliva, in collaboration with RFI and Diamond.

Please read our interview with Sir Richard Catlow, a leading light in catalysis and computational techniques.

Finally I have written a piece for Research Fortnight entitled “To reopen labs, make COVID-free the goal”, linked here for your interest.

Image: Copyright of Imperial College London