WEB EXCLUSIVE: Monitoring Temperature In Lab Settings

This Web Exclusive is written by Tony Rankin, facility administrator for Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Research Center of Chicago.

Facility managers (fms) take on vast layers of responsibilities in their organizations and are relied upon to handle and oversee proverbial industry tasks as well as those that require a balance of zeitgeist in the technological arena. For example, the fm in a laboratory research environment is not only tasked with the building infrastructure and physical plant obligations, but also with assisting principal research investigators maintain their equipment, including ultra-cold freezers that store (preserve) critical research samples. This is the case in my facility.web exclusive

Ultra-cold freezers in our facility store samples that have been developed by way of extensive research in an effort to discover cures for diseases for children, explains Dr. Nikia Laurie, principal investigator at the Lurie Children’s Research Center (LCRC) in Chicago. LCRC has a mission to generate advancements in prevention and diagnosis and treatment that affect children’s health through adolescence and adulthood.

We have installed an automated temperature monitoring system that allows the researcher (or laboratory groups) to receive freezer temperature alerts via e-mail and cell phones, and the system operates on our organization’s existing computer network.

The system also permits researchers to set temperature thresholds for -20, -80 and -196 (centigrade) ultra-cold and cryopreservation freezers, and receive alerts when compartment temperatures are outside the threshold limits. For example, most -80 ultra-cold freezers at LCRC have a threshold setting of -60 (high) to -90 (low). Alerts are automatically sent if temperature reaches -59 or higher, or -91 or lower. The audible alarms on these cold storage units are of no help, however, for after-hour alerts because no one is in the facility to respond. This rationalized the need for a temperature notification device that renders 24/7 monitoring. The LCRC facility also uses a temperature probe to monitor and receive alerts for controlled room temperature in the freezer farm area where approximately 35 ultra-cold freezers are housed.Lurie Research Center

It is important to have a temperature monitoring system that will alert us when there is a problem (typically compressor failure) with the ultra-cold freezers, so we can respond and transfer critical samples to an emergency freezer, explains Dr. Christine DiDonato, principal investigator at LCRC. The automated temperature monitoring system we have put in place is connected through either a serial connection, which is usually located in the back of the ultra-cold freezer; a dry contact connection; or by using a probe that is strategically placed inside the freezer compartment wall and stabilized using glycerin.

I have found this monitoring system to be reliable and effective for temperature monitoring of the ultra-cold and cryopreservation freezers, and the alerts are sent (when temperatures are outside limits) before the situation worsens. This early notification can be the difference between saving or losing critical research samples. In addition, having an automated temperature monitoring system in place reduces services calls to the facility services department.

The Internet based system works well, but did not meet all of our needs, “out of the box” says Jeffery Shaw, senior system analyst at LCRC. After some server configurations and some customizations, we were able to implement an overall system that is actually very effective and reliable in sending notifications. Very little hardware is needed for connectivity and communication with our network.

Temperature monitoring of scientific devices play an important role in the research environment and engender a level of comfort to researchers that their critical work is steadfastly being monitored. The system is also available wireless; can collect real-time data; retains limited archived data; records data graphs; and avails reports that can be retrieved showing temperature levels and times for compliance with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute of Health (NIH), and other essential regulating bodies.