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Green Labs

Tips and tools for waste, energy, and emissions reduction for lab owners, users, and sustainability coordinators.


A2: Adventures in Green Labs


Race to the Summit: A Green Labs Adventure 

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Two unassuming lab managers began their sustainability journey to tackle the growing garbage problem in scientific research at their institution. Their voyage began with investigations about glove recycling programs, only to run into a familiar hurdle: cost. Despite losing footing many times from difficulties ranging from general disinterest, ignored emails, refusals to answer surveys, and poor meeting attendance, they persisted in their trek towards a more sustainable future. Along the way they gathered support and inspiration from their sustainability manager and green lab managers outside their small campus community.


To grow their band of misfits, these shy lab managers then went beyond their comfort zones and reached out to like-minded faculty, staff, and students for guidance and assistance. This group developed a solid vision for green labs initiatives, and finally presented their plans to the head of their department to ask (successfully!) for funding. This merry group, dubbed Caltech Green Labs, then created a logo, a website, sustainable guides, and were given a place in their division’s quarterly newsletter. Green Labs presented their work to faculty and have continued to grow their group significantly by incorporating initiatives such as pilot programs that explore green research, Green Labs Certification, and sustainable events. Will their persistence be enough to conquer wasteful practices at their institute? Only time will tell.


Sustainability Leadership in Research: How UBC is Meeting Ambitious Climate Action Targets Through Lab Resource Conservation


As a research-intensive university, lab resource conservation initiatives are key to meeting the University of British Columbia’s ambitious climate action and sustainability targets. This presentation will share how UBC’s Green Labs Program applies a comprehensive and evolving approach to advance sustainability in labs through ground up engagement, strategic resource conservation projects and high-level strategies to facilitate process change. It will touch on specific examples from tried and true energy conservation campaigns dedicated to high-impact cold storage and fume hood systems, to newer initiatives such as our Lab Sustainability Course, Sustainability Leadership Awards, lab equipment rental programs, and our recent experience with green lab certification. Attendees will learn practical strategies to support sustainability in research labs.


Managing Your Campus Lab Portfolio: A University’s Journey Leveraging I2SL Toolkits for Decarbonization


The University of Virginia is an R1 institution with ~1 million square feet of dedicated lab space. Labs constitute approximately 10% of university square footage but consume almost a third of our energy, making them critical spaces to implement decarbonization strategies for achieving campus sustainability goals. UVA Sustainability has projected that Smart Labs buildings will account for approximately half of the necessary energy savings towards decarbonization. In 2022, UVA Sustainable Labs presented to the I2SL community a holistic framework for addressing lab sustainability from every angle, exploring all strategies for reducing emissions such as Green Labs Certifications, ventilation risk assessments, LED lighting upgrades, and more.


Our Program continues to grow, starting Smart Labs projects in three additional lab buildings while closing our two original Smart Labs projects. Each building has presented unique opportunities, challenges, and lessons learned for engaging with occupants and performing retrocommissioning. Now, in 2023, Sustainable Labs is utilizing the Laboratory Benchmarking Tool and Labs2Zero toolkit, both designed by I2SL partners for improved management of lab building portfolios. We will report to the I2SL community how these tools have facilitated the management of existing lab buildings, but also how they might assist in driving proactive sustainability planning for new construction, such as UVA’s forthcoming Manning Institute for Biotechnology.


B2: Sustainable Materials


Fossil Versus Biobased Oil: Lifecycle Analysis of a 5 mL Tube


Plastic-based laboratory consumables are mandatory for many steps in the lab (e.g., purity, sterility, ease-of-use), and the expectations of the user are high. But the large quantities of plastic lab waste that are generated every day in the lab are of concern. Plastic production is currently based on fossil oil as virgin raw material, but new developmentsare emerging (e.g., used cooking oil that can be used as raw material for products such as tubes and tips in the lab).

How far can we improve the footprint of lab consumables by these biobased materials? Based on the 5 mL tube, we compared the fossil oil-based production with the biobased material production (cradle-to-gate approach) by a lifecycle analysis. Raw material, production, packaging, and logistics impact the carbon footprint as well as energy consumption.

We have to change our material and our behavior in the lab. These changes need to go hand-in-hand between user and manufacturer, as this journey can only be mastered together: We need a combination of high-quality product attributes with significant improvement in sustainability.


Eppendorf is assessing the current status and reviewing the best options for different categories of laboratory consumables in order to make them a reality. We want to give some insights into the challenges on the manufacturer side and how far science can be pushed to the “green area” when using biobased raw materials.


The Tipping Point: Lab Sustainability and Future of Single-Use Plastic


Operations of scientific laboratories are largely built upon the accepted use of disposable products. Every day, massive amounts of pipette tips, microplates, and cell flasks are consumed and thrown away after a single use, only to be incinerated or tossed into a landfill. In this session, we will discuss ways to minimize this detrimental impact on our environment and incorporate solutions to mitigate supply chain disruptions by reducing the amount of waste generated from the assays conducted in labs, while maintaining the integrity of the data produced.  With environmental sustainability awareness growing across the globe, it is vital labs are aware of their impact and power to make change. 


The presentation will cover the current practices used for disposing consumables, the effect that practice has on the environment, and alternative methods to disposing of single use plastic in the labs. With environmental sustainability awareness growing across the globe, it is vital labs are aware of their impact and power to make change. This session will also cover ways labs can be equipped to support lab operations through supply chain shortages by reusing plastic consumables given the event of another global pandemic.


Floored by Sustainability

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Traditionally speaking, the writing of flooring specifications seldom falls at the feet of the laboratory planner. Instead, this task relies on the architect or interior designer, with a review by the lab planner. This discussion aims to put the knowledge and confidence into the hands of the laboratory planner, whose main objective is a safe, functional, and sustainable lab.  We will review the flooring options for different laboratory types, focusing on not only what is most sustainable, but what makes these options sustainable. This knowledge will parlay into key objectives for writing a baseline specification to be used in projects moving forward, helping designers achieve greener labs, one material at a time. 


C2: Smart Labs


The Realities of Smart Lab Energy Retrofits in Operating Facilities

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A Smart Buildings and Labs project was implemented at the University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA) Terasaki Life Science Building of labs a vivariums. The main project goals were to reduce energy use while continuing to meet lab requirements. Altura developed the energy conservation measures (ECMs) and assisted UCLA in their design, construction, commissioning, measurement and verification, using SkySpark analytics tools to provide real-time measurements of performance. 

ECMs include reduction in lab air change rates, conversion of lab exhaust fans from constant speed to variable speed with staging, air handler static pressure and supply air temperature resets and optimal start/stop control, vivarium space humidity control upgrades, constant to variable volume zone upgrades, programming of uniform zone temperature setpoints and a LED lighting upgrade.

Coordination with many UCLA stakeholder groups was required to successfully implement the project. How this was achieved, and lessons learned will be a key focus of the presentation. 


A Smart Labs Choose Your Own Adventure: Laboratory Ventilation Risk Assessment 

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Ventilation is a defense mechanism to mitigate airborne hazards produced during research activities in laboratories. Yet as a vital component to maintaining healthy, safe, indoor air quality, laboratory ventilation systems can fall victim to ineffective operation, posing a risk to researchers. This presentation outlines how laboratory professionals can employ a Smart Labs program. This includes completing a laboratory ventilation risk assessment—a systematic process for identifying risk from airborne hazards and informing dynamic demand-based ventilation to enhance laboratory safety and energy efficiency.


Structured as a choose-your-own-adventure presentation, audience members will be walked through how to conduct a laboratory ventilation risk assessment, such as learning how to perform a series of laboratory surveys and how to assign each laboratory characteristic with a risk control band. Audience members will also receive a demonstration on how to use the Laboratory Ventilation Risk Assessment Tool, available under the Smart Labs Toolkit. This tool guides users through the steps of a laboratory ventilation risk assessment and provides ASHRAE laboratory ventilation design levels to calculate recommended air change rates based on the laboratory’s overall risk assessment.


Financial and Programmatic Benefits of a Smart Labs Program


The University of California Irvine campus plans to provide a one-day Smart Labs post-conference workshop.  To introduce the workshop (and for those who cannot attend it), this presentation will focus on the energy, financial, and programmatic benefits and co-benefits of a Smart Labs program. Attendees will hear an overview of the direct cost-benefit results and co-benefits of Smart Labs such as improved safety, for which an assigned monetary value may not be applicable. Three or four main pre-requisite factors can predict the extent to which a financial return will be realized from a Smart Labs program of lab retrofits or application of Smart Labs design standards and features in newly constructed laboratories.

Providing this presentation in a general session will prepare post-conference workshop participants with an overview framework in preparation for the one-day event.


D2: Green Labs Coordination


Sustainable Lab Ambassadors: Undergraduate Students as Green Lab Guides


As a leading research institution, Penn State faculty and student researchers are highly trained and sought by employers for the skills and knowledge that they bring from the research laboratory to the workplace.  However, the skills, knowledge, daily practices, and decisions in most labs do not yet include sustainability as a conscious filter. There is growing awareness that this element is essential for many important reasons.  The Penn State Sustainable Lab Ambassador (SLA) program is an engaged scholarship approach to creating a more sustainable research culture and operation without compromising research quality. In the process, researchers are prepared to build a more sustainable world in their future careers. 


Hiring undergraduates as SLAs to support increased sustainable activity in research labs  benefits the lab members, lab operations, and the student. When piloting the program at Penn State, some labs were provided with an SLA while others were not. Their role was designed to support and augment their lab group's My Green Lab certification efforts. During the academic year, SLAs participated as a cohort in a structured program that included educational training, waste and energy audits, and hands-on, immersive experiences in the laboratory setting that they could employ to change lab member behaviors. This presentation will explain the structure and content of the SLA program, evaluation results of the pilot year, and changes made to the program for its second year.


Joining Forces: How EH&S and Green Labs Professionals Can Thrive Together 

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Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) and laboratory sustainability groups have many common goals and can benefit tremendously from collaborating with one another. Developing a productive working relationship between EHS and lab sustainability staff can prove challenging, however. In this presentation we will overview some of the shared objectives of EHS and lab sustainability personnel and offer insights on how the two organizations can best combine efforts. We will discuss specific program overlaps including examples of waste minimization, energy and water conservation, green chemistry, laboratory safety, and regulatory compliance. We will also provide practical advice and specific language needed for EHS and lab sustainability professionals to best communicate with one another. 


The University of Texas at Austin’s (UT) Green Labs program will be presented as a case study. UT Green Labs is housed under the EHS department, uncommon for a university Green Labs program. This unique placement has provided a deeper understanding of the advantages of a strong partnership between EHS and Green Labs. We will explore UT Green Labs’ growth since being housed under the EHS department, the benefits UT Green Labs provides to the EHS department, and lessons learned. 

A Guide to Composting: Lessons Learned from a Pilot


The University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) began the groundwork for starting an animal bedding composting pilot program after attending an I2SL presentation in 2017 on the topic. After learning the successes and areas of improvement from other universities, UAB began its journey on building a composting program in 2019. We learned that the first steps towards composting animal bedding is to first identify a potential composting facility—without a proper composting facility, an institution can't compost. Once the facility was identified, UAB Green Labs sought approval from the EHS Biosafety committee. After collaborating with the animal resources director, the committee approved the initiative. The facility began separating non-compostable waste streams after training and signage was provided.


Within a few months, UAB Green Labs had received EHS approval, segregated non-compostable waste, and was prepared to ship 10 tons of animal bedding to be composted per week. However, plans changed once the composting facility went bankrupt. The lessons learned is to expect potential failures outside of your control but to identify innovative ways to allow for your program to move forward. Identifying cost-effective, carbon negative solutions are also integral to getting institutional support. The proposed presentation will cover how we got approval, how we segregated waste (including video), and how we navigated the facility going bankrupt to still permit composting. 


E2: Equity and Justice


Approaching Equity in Science-Led Development

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In this presentation, we will explore what makes a successful science-led development and how both positive and negative equity impacts can result. We will look at the components of a successful science cluster and how this type of development can embed equity by being intentional about community empowerment. As part of the presentation, we will look at some case studies both within the United States and internationally.

We will then dive deeper into the concept of equity–what do we mean by it and why is it important? Having earlier explored the positive impacts of this type of development, we will look at the unintended negative aspects, such as rising land value resulting in the displacement of existing communities. We will explore how developers might plan to avoid these impacts from the outset and foster a culture of continuous growth to adapt to changing community needs. As a conclusion, we will set out a proposed new approach that will support both the ongoing growth of this exciting sector and ensure that equity is a primary consideration with positive outcomes for local communities.


Impact of Single-Use Lab Supplies on Sustainability 


Within the past two generations, a bulk of laboratory and medical supplies were made from reusable, repeatedly sterilized pieces of metal and glass. These metal and glass supplies, such as pipets, tests tubes, and growth flasks, were mostly phased out as it became less expensive and more convenient to purchase single-use supplies composed of or wrapped in plastic and dispose of them immediately after use. This increase in supplies, including their production, transport, and disposal, contributes massively to the healthcare industry’s greenhouse gas emissions, which accounts for nearly 8.5% of U.S. emissions. Following a brief history on this transition from reusable to single-use supplies, we will discuss the feasibility and cultural shift needed to return to reusable supplies and reduce the reliance on single-use supplies.


Bringing Greater Equity to the Global Research Enterprise (Part V)


Despite the many beneficial and positive outcomes of the global research enterprise, there are also some deep inequities and burdens associated with it. Through objective inquiry and systems-level observation, this presentation explores opportunities to bring greater equity to the design and operation of high-tech research facilities, not just for the individuals working in them, but also for those outside the scientific community who are impacted by our processes—from extraction to manufacturing to operations to procurement and more. We must redefine what it means to “do good science” and be willing to review our own processes to ultimately become more consientious and equitable in our efforts. 


This session builds on a body of work presented over the last five years at I2SL and will provide new examples of connections between the research enterprise and equity. Attendees will also receive relevant updates for ongoing research presented in previous years. We will explore how laboratories and institutions can operate in ways that benefit people, rather than passing burdens off to other communities. All attendees at the I2SL conference will have something to gain from attending this session and need not have attended previous years in order to benefit. The goal of this session is to help facilitate a shift within the research enterprise where considerations of equity become an integral part of our work.


F2: Next-Level Green Lab Efforts


Green Labs Recycling

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The scientific research community significantly impacts the environment, particularly from waste generation. University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) researchers recognized this problem, and through a large amount of interest, a Green Labs recycling program was created.

UAB decided to use lab recycling to incentivize labs to join the Green Labs program. Having Green Labs be a requirement for lab recycling serves several purposes: engaging and educating researchers on how to be more sustainable in their lab through a survey and presentation about energy, water, and waste reductions. The lab recycling program is student-led, with the students helping communicate and educate the researchers about lab recycling. 

Through the lab recycling program, UAB is able to capitalize on a lab's interest in recycling and transform the way they see sustainability in the lab. Labs can successfully identify ways to be more sustainable not just through recycling, but by making simple behavioral changes that lead to significant energy and water impacts for the university. Some of these impacts also include changing institutional policies that promote sustainable purchasing, reuse, and circularity. 


Because of energy and water savings from the Green Labs program, UAB is able to justify and pay for lab recycling. Through successful education, the program has developed into a robust reuse and recycling program that recycles a variety of hard-to-recycle materials like polystyrene, gloves, ice packs, and other waste streams. 


Development of a Fume Hood Position Sensor for Sash Competitions: Implementation and Preliminary Data from the University of Maryland


 Shut the sash competitions are a high-impact strategy to combat the high energy consumption of variable air volume fume hoods (VAVs) by incentivizing their closure. However, sash competitions require significant data collection and analysis, which can be stymied by limited staff-time and reliance on data from building management systems (BMS) with incomplete coverage. For instance, the University of Maryland (UMD) is home to over 800 fume hoods, but only 24 faculty hoods are connected to the BMS, which significantly limits the reach and environmental impact of the university’s sash competitions. To address this, we engineered a fume hood monitoring platform that includes (1) a plug-and-play sensor to automatically measure sash position and sends this data to our (2) web server, which automatically analyzes this data to provide real-time metrics on our program’s environmental impact. The platform was cost-effective and significantly reduced the time needed to manage sash competitions. Here, we describe the design process and installation of the platform on UMD fume hoods that were not previously connected to the BMS. We also present sensor specifications and its collected data, including projected environmental benefits from scaling to the rest of UMD’s hoods. Of note, the platform also introduces the possibility of holding inter-institution sash competitions.

UVA Green Labs: Adaptive Communication Strategies for Diverse Stakeholder Groups  

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The University of Virginia (UVA) Green Labs program has seen huge growth over the last two years and at the foundation of that success has been a robust communications plan, active resource gathering and development, a growing Sustainable Labs team, and a whole community of advocates at UVA and beyond.  

This presentation will give an overview of the UVA Green Labs Communication Plan and highlight tools and resources for developing tailored communications for a variety of stakeholders. Many of these resources were developed collaboratively by the larger Green Labs community with the intention of sharing them broadly and a focus on making highly technical content more accessible to diverse audiences.  By sharing these tools and plans, the UVA Sustainable Labs team hopes to encourage a more active community of practice in the Green Labs space. 

We will share resources such as an easily replicable behavior-based program to reduce the plug loads of lab equipment, a toolkit for labs to participate effectively in the International Freezer Challenge, a framework for collaborating with graduate student organizations, and an overview of the structure of the Green Labs Working Group, a major driving force for these efforts. More importantly, the UVA Green Labs Communication Plan will demonstrate how an overarching strategic framework for driving engagement uses these tools and key metrics to build mildly curious researchers into staunch advocates and emerging leaders for laboratory sustainability.   


G2: Sustainable Purchasing


Decarbonizing the Lab Supply Chain

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In a 2022 study, My Green Lab found that the total carbon impact of the biotech and pharma industry was 260 million tCO2-e, more than the forestry and paper industry, and growing 15% per year. While laboratories themselves are resources intensive spaces, most of the carbon impact from the life science industry comes from Scope 3, or the upstream and downstream impact from an organization's value stream, including the extensive laboratory supply chain.

Lab designers, engineers, procurement, and scientists all have a role in reducing the impact of the lab supply chain. Through smart purchasing decisions and the promotion of third-party certification for lab products, companies can drive reduction much beyond the four walls of their lab. 

Join this presentation to learn how to build a green equipment list and purchasing policy that will help reduce the impact of your lab and your lab supply chain. Further, learn how to leverage your purchasing power to drive manufacturers to improve their products and operations by requiring third-party environmental certifications. Lastly, discover how market-leading manufacturers are constantly working to improve their products and adopting new technologies to be part of a low-carbon laboratory supply future. 


H2: Chemistry Concerns


Up, Up & Away: Costs, Recovery & Availability of Helium

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As a recent NBC news headline stated, “America’s largest supply of helium is up in the air.” For nearly a decade, worries over the future of the U.S. helium supply have been a concern; while this may seem like a minor disruption, there are serious impacts to the healthcare and research communities. Located within the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Gaithersburg, Maryland, campus is the Advanced Measurement Laboratory Complex (AML), one of the most technologically advanced research facilities in the world that has also taken progressive steps forward to reduce helium reliance. 


At AML a new high pressure recovery and liquification system to serve 12 advanced measurement laboratories was designed and installed to reduce reliance of new helium delivered to the labs. The high-pressure recovery plant is capable of helium storage and processing for the researcher’s recovery, purification, liquefaction and reuse. Purity metering at three quality levels of the recovery system ensured high-purity, research-grade helium was recovered for reuse in metrology experiments requiring cryogenic environments at the nano-particle size. Installed within occupied labs, the new helium recovery system provides NIST a sustainable process to protect their research against shortages and rising costs. Critical research and medical equipment may be at jeopardy if recovery systems do not become a staple at research institutes. 


SF6 Reduction at LANL

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Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) is a potent greenhouse gas used in programmatic and mission essential pieces of equipment in laboratories across Los Alamos National Laboratory. Historically, LANL’s SF6 emissions account for a relatively large percentage of LANL’s fugitive emissions and total Scope 1 emissions. Working closely with SF6 users, we have identified creative and cost-effective ways to reduce overall SF6 usage resulting in substantial reduction over time. This presentation will discuss our efforts to reduce SF6 emissions while keeping costs down and minimizing the impact of operations.

Green Chemistry and the Million Advocates for Sustainable Science

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Abstract coming soon.


I2: Energy-Efficient Equipment


Instant Energy Savings: Leveraging Utility Sponsorship for Energy-Efficient Equipment


Capital equipment, drawing the largest plug load in the lab, presents a great opportunity to achieve new operational efficiency gains, while proactively mitigating increasing carbon footprint scrutiny. Next-generation equipment offers high efficiency as well as high performance, but funding can often be a stumbling block for labs seeking to become greener, as much as upfront pricing can be a challenge for suppliers of energy-efficient products despite lower long-term operating costs. Utility rebate programs incentivize sustainable laboratory equipment to reduce the purchase price of these units, yielding tremendous energy savings while allowing labs to stretch their funding and stay within their budgets. This empowers organizations to lower their operating costs and CO2 emissions, creating opportunities to implement sustainability strategies through the purchase of new energy-efficient technologies.  


Midstream rebates simplify and streamline access to these funds for the end user and supplier alike. This session will break down the rebate process and detail programs available to sustainability-focused laboratories, and how to overcome common barriers in finding and applying for these programs. Additionally, this session will inform attendees how they can influence utilities to develop and implement these programs in your area.


Laboratory Equipment: Maximize Energy Efficiency

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This presentation will discuss available options for laboratory equipment and accessories to maximize energy efficiency in laboratory environments. The conversation will include best practices in selecting and operating laboratory equipment such as fume hoods, glassware washers, autoclaves, and freezers to minimize the impact they have in the mechanical and electrical loads in your project. 


Presenters will draw on their laboratory planning experience to discuss best practices in the selection of ultra-low temperature freezers and fume hoods with energy efficiency as a priority. The impact equipment has in the mechanical, electrical and emergency power systems is significant; reducing energy loads can considerably improve achievement of sustainability and environmental goals. We will also discuss glassware washers, autoclaves, cage washers and others to guarantee the audience understands the importance procurement and operations decisions have on their carbon footprint.


We will present fume hood sash management systems, their potential cost and energy savings and how they can be a beneficial tool to ensure successful energy management for your project. Whether it is a standalone hood or a fully integrated building management system, sash management can improve your energy usage and allow you to plan out your energy savings over time.  Other energy saving ideas like lower fume hood flow rates, LED lighting and sash options will also be discussed.

Sustainable Autoclaves: A Steamy Situation


Autoclaves, or sterilizers, are an integral component of research operations across the world. These pieces of equipment are critical to ensuring that researchers are using sterile equipment, reagents, and tools. However, maintaining this level of sterility is resource-intensive: the average autoclave can use thousands of gallons of water per day and require significant electrical load. This resource-intensity of autoclaves as been an accepted fact of research, but what if it weren't? With the development of non-steam-jacketed autoclaves, researchers may be able to significantly reduce utility use without compromising lab operations. UAB conducted user logs to determine cycle frequency use and materials autoclaves to right-size autoclaves on campus. We then purchased two non-steam-jacketed autoclaves, metered them, and compared metering data and throughput with steam-jacketed autoclaves. This data was presented to the School of Medicine to determine if non-steam-jacketed autoclaves would become the standard. We will discuss barriers of non-steam-jacketed autoclaves, discussions had within our facilities departments and School of Medicine, bumps along the way to installing these non-steam-jacketed units, and the data collected from this initiative. 

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