JRSI organizes a friendly competition in the Department of Chemistry and the Institute for Molecular Engineering

The Joint Research Safety Initiative (JRSI) recently held a peer lab walkthrough event in the Department of Chemistry and the Institute for Molecular Engineering to train a group of graduate student volunteers to evaluate safety concepts and best practices. The competition was a collaborative educational opportunity for research groups to share safety knowledge, creative fixes and learned lessons without regulatory authority or punitive action. Graduate student volunteers were trained to evaluate safety concepts and best practices from a scoring rubric designed by the JRSI and the Office of Research Safety.

The JRSI, an effort led by graduate students, postdoctoral trainees and research assistants in the University of Chicago Department of Chemistry and Institute for Molecular Engineering, works to promote best safety practices and provide safety resources to their research community.

The JRSI launch complements a number of laboratory safety initiatives completed by the Office of Research Safety last year, including implementation of a new central safety data management system, EHSA, as well as a companion accident and incident reporting system named UCAIR.

“As I have progressed in my graduate career, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of laboratory safety as well as how it is often overlooked or not prioritized at the university level, especially compared to other research settings,” said Whitney Fowler, a graduate student in the Tirrell Lab who volunteered for the event. “Volunteering as a judge for this event seemed like a great opportunity to continue to learn about proper safety protocol myself as well as to contribute to an increased awareness of safety measures and a better safety culture for our university as a whole.”

A dozen research groups volunteered to participate in this event, showcasing the breadth of research being pursued at the University of Chicago. Various hazards were considered and normalized to each lab’s hazard categories; scoring awarded innovative, proactive solutions and noted shortcomings that may lead to mishaps or accidents.

Awards were given to the divisional winners from the Department of Chemistry and the Institute for Molecular Engineering, the Anderson and Patel labs, respectively. The Huang Lab received the grand prize and funds for a group outing. Prof. Jun Huang runs a cancer immunology lab in the Institute for Molecular Engineering. A news article about his group highlights the safety practices and strong attributes that the students have adopted in pursuing their cutting-edge research.

“We were very pleased with the level of participation and enthusiasm for the event,” said Ryan Menssen, the current president of the JRSI. “The JRSI aims to continue this event every year and promote building a better safety culture here at the University of Chicago.”

Additionally, in the spirit of communicating safety practices across research laboratories, the Anderson, Rowan and Lee groups received distinguished recognition for creative safety practices. These topics will be converted into Safety Moments available on the JRSI Website.