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Monday, June 1, 2015

Presenting Mascharak Lab: UCSC’s first Platinum Certified Green Lab

By Lily Urmann- Green Labs Facilitator

When the Green Labs team conducted our walkthrough to certify Mascharak Lab, it would be an understatement to say that we were all impressed. The lab’s commitment to sustainability and conserving was outstanding. What was even more impressive, and rare among labs on our campus, was their teamwork and collective effort to recycle, save energy, and reduce waste in their lab. The Green Labs team is excited to announce that Mascharak Lab is UCSC’s first Platinum Certified lab- the highest award in our ranking system! I sat down with the Green Lab Zero Waste Coordinator Chris Kane to interview Indranil Chakraborty and Samantha Carrington from Mascharak lab to see how they work towards sustainability in their lab.

Chris: What is the primary focus of the work you do in your lab?

Indranil: Currently cancer is the most detrimental disease on earth. As per survey conducted by National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the year 2015, an estimated 1,658,370 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 589,430 people will die from this disease. Although chemotherapy is the most common treatment for this ailment, there are several types of cancer, which are resistant to such treatment. In addition this procedure also associated with various adverse side effects. It has been known for a while that carbon monoxide can induce pro-apoptotic effect (apoptosis is a process of programed cell death) towards hyper prolific cells like cancer cells. However, utilizing carbon monoxide as gaseous form in hospital settings is not very favorable. To utilize the therapeutic potential of this small molecule, in our lab we are designing some metal carbonyl complexes that release carbon monoxide upon light illumination. In that way we plan to deliver carbon monoxide in a more controllable and targeted fashion to eradicate cancer cells. In such pursuits we are designing such molecules where CO release can be triggered with the aid of visible light (as good a normal flash light). We are employing also some theoretical calculations to aid our design principles.

Samantha: The goal overall in this project is to bring fiber optic therapy to also help as an addition to chemotherapy. CO not only induces apoptosis in cancer cells, it actually also helps to sensitize cancer cells towards chemotherapeutics about 1,000 times. With our experience in synthesis, we are able to bring the theoretical chemistry together with the synthesis and photophysical chemistry to make these complexes very visible light active.

Chris: How did your lab hear about the Green Labs Program?

Samantha: We heard about it at the LSR meeting. They had a slide for Green Labs, and there were people representing Green Labs from Environmental Health and Safety.

Chris: What prompted you to pursue certification?

Samantha: A long time ago we were having problems with our lights because the whole light system in PSB was redone in an effort to be more “green”. It was actually really funny because they put in new light sensors in our lab; we are a photoactive lab, so our chemicals release or decompose upon illumination. These lights would go on and off by themselves, and affect the experiments. We spoke constantly with the really great electricians and people putting all the lighting to try to fix the problems, and then finally the main engineer on the project, and she said “We had no idea that people were so green!”. The reason the lighting system was changing was so that sensors were able to turn off the lights people had forgotten about and our goal was to just keep the lights off all the time.

Indranil: That’s when we reviewed the system, and deactivated the entire automated lights. Samantha: This was actually the first time anyone had ever brought up our carbon footprint and energy consumption into light because no one else works with the lights off. We started thinking about it and how we run our lab and it seems pretty efficient compared to other labs.

Chris: And I would imagine that to pursue the actual certification it sounded like the slide that offered funding incentives for labs was a motivator? Samantha: Yes, we were so excited! Lily: And once we purchase the new energy-efficient equipment for your lab, we will be able to monitor and record the savings, then re-apply for a larger grant next year and continue growing the Green Labs program to get more labs involved.

Chris: How do you communicate sustainable practices within your lab, to existing and incoming lab members? Samantha: It’s more about how we practice doing things in our lab- we would like to recycle, and in general we like to do things that make sense overall. It all fell in line with being green and sustainable. So it would be weird for half the lab to be doing one thing and for one person to be taking out recycled paper and throwing it in the trash! Indranil: When the incoming graduate students see Sam doing these things, they follow her lead and assume this is how the lab runs. Since Sam was our LSR, she’s good at giving a general overview about how to be safe and sustainable.

Chris: Are there any other sustainable practices that you plan to implement into lab for the future? Sometimes this can be hard for labs if it’s seen as a barrier to get their work done, but there's always room to improve. Samantha: A long time ago, we had a printer that printed double-sided, but it used too much ink (which was expensive). So we were trying to use less ink, and we buy the recycled paper- but when we got a new printer, it only printed one-sided. Although it’s now efficient in ink, there are always downsides. Now our goal is finding “the one” that will be good with ink AND print double-sided! This is especially important as we are trying to get everyone on the electronic inventory system, but still have to print it out- which is a lot of pages, since we are one of the largest synthetic labs on campus. We are just trying to get everything more electronic both to save paper and make our system more efficient.

Lily: How do you encourage members of the lab to be sustainable and use sustainable practices? It sounds like it comes mostly from wanting to be safe, but what advice would you give to other labs to be more sustainable? Samantha: There are both office supplies and reagents that are made for the practice of sustainability- for example, we return the empty printer cartridge for refills. There’s recycled paper that is just as cheap as regular paper and buying from certain suppliers which are known to be more sustainable than others. Often times the reagents are the same price, and the difference is how they affect the environment. These are definitely small things, but they all add up and have an impact.

Chris: I think many people have a misconception that sustainability is all about “green”, but it’s also about making sure the lab can get it’s work done safely and at an economically feasible cost.

If your lab is interesting in getting certified, please email lurmann [at] ucsc [dot] edu and check out the Green Labs Website.