Leak in Kruyt building yet another blow to researchers

Mobile freezer at the Kruyt building, which temporarily housed research material. Photo: DUB

The leak, in a technical space on the ground floor of the north wing of the Kruyt building, was noticed on Saturday evening. The break in the pipe led to ten different refrigerators and freezers, spread throughout the building, which had been connected to the failing system.

It proved impossible to contact every single Biology and Chemistry research group that used the system via the ‘call list’. For that reason, an email was sent out to all Kruyt building residents about the situation shortly after midnight.

The remainder of the weekend, researchers were busy transporting their material to other coolers elsewhere in the Botanical Gardens and the De Wied building. To ensure there was sufficient storage capacity for frozen samples, a mobile freezer arrived on Sunday as well.

On Monday morning, the broken pipe was repaired. The glue had to dry for a full day, and so it’s expected that the coolers and freezers will be able to be refilled by Tuesday. At the moment, it’s still unclear what the total damage to research material will be. More clarity is expected later this week.

Not at ease
Professor of Plant-Microbe Interactions Corné Pieterse is one of the researchers who only saw the email on Sunday morning. He raced from his home in Zeist to the Kruyt building, where he and several colleagues transported their research material to the coolers in the Botanical Gardens.

It’s unclear to him what the consequences will be for his research group. One experiment, for which they’d just sown, can definitely be thrown out. But more important than that is the state of the material that had been cooled or frozen throughout the past years with the intent to analyse at a later date.

Pieterse is not at ease about the situation. “Usually, if something malfunctions, you can get there quickly and get everything to safety, but now, nearly all the seeds and soil and plant monsters reached temperatures that they shouldn’t be at.”

The professor was told by a group of plant ecologists that they’d frozen samples at -20 degrees Celsius for years, in order to study these ‘over time’. That material can be considered as lost. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, and that’s not what we need right now.”

Don’t know what to do
Corné Pieterse sees how all supporting staff members are trying their best to mitigate the damage and to relieve the pressure on researchers as much as possible. But the leak, he says, is a new disaster in a long list of incidents that make working in the Kruyt building next to impossible. “We don’t know what to do.”

Last summer, the UU announced the unpleasant surprise that biologists and chemists would not get their own new building, but that the Kruyt building will be renovated while still in use. Since then, there have been multiple leaks, some of which even led to asbestos warnings. So far, the leaks had consistently been in heating pipes; now, for the first time, a cooling system pipe was damaged. There have also been numerous power outages, and last month, there was even a break-in

After a large power outage in the Kruyt building this past November, professor Corné Pieterse experienced severe technological problems with the climatic chambers and climatic cells in the Fytotron. In his opinion, the university has since found a proper solution to that problem. “But the reality is that this building is on its last legs, and we’re just hopping from incident to incident. Solving all those issues would require all types of quick fixes that cost a lot of money.”

A nearly emotional Pieterse says it’s high time the researchers in the Kruyt building are finally given some certainty about their future. “What’s going to happen? How long will it take? Where will we work in the future? As long as the answers to those questions fails to come, each incident just increases our despair.”