Leigh Needleman

Lab Manager, Dulac Lab
Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS)

The Dulac Lab, run by Catherine Dulac the Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, is located in Harvard’s Biolabs Building and supports 23 researchers.

Leigh Needleman, Lab Manager for the group, helps drive sustainability awareness and green lab practices on a daily basis and is a true champion and supporter of green lab initiatives here at Harvard.

1. What type of research does your lab group conduct?

Our group focuses primarily on innate social behaviors in mice. In the past we have explored how olfaction and pheromones drive certain behaviors such as mating, parenting, and eating. As our research and the science have advanced we are looking at the molecules associated with behaviors such as parenting actions in mice and utilizing genetic resources to manipulate proteins and cells.

2. What are some ways you're working to integrate sustainable practices in the lab?

I look at green initiatives in the lab as three main categories: Energy efficiency, waste reduction, and purchasing. Both energy efficiency and purchasing take effort and require input, while it is vital for waste reduction to be easy and as simple as possible for the researchers. There are obvious differences from department level to the building level and then our individual group level sustainability efforts.

We have had a major focus on our freezers in the lab from conducting an energy study and monitoring each one, to purchasing energy efficient models as the old freezers are replaced. The freezers are on a defrosting schedule and researchers are encouraged to keep their samples organized. The data collected from the energy study has been used to influence purchasing decisions and provided a great opportunity to learn about how energy intensive these freezers actually are.

The data collected from the energy study has been used to influence purchasing decisions and provided a great opportunity to learn about how energy intensive these freezers actually are.

The Dulac lab initiated a two stream glass and plastic washing system to reduce the volume that is autoclaved.The Dulac lab initiated a two stream glass and plastic washing system to reduce the volume that is autoclaved.Researchers have been encouraged to turn-off their Thermocyclers after running in order to reduce the amount of energy wasted. Equipment shut-off is promoted whenever it makes sense, and we have looked at putting timers on some pieces of equipment. All of the researchers are taught to shut their fume hood sashes whenever they walk away. In addition to the fume hoods, we try to keep all of our windows closed in both the summer and the winter months.

Our glass/plastic washing process has been separated into a two stream system which has resulted in less use of the autoclave and a reduction in new purchases as the plastics now last longer. I am in charge of purchasing and can make decisions based on knowing the goal of the project which can help reduce packaging material and waste generation.

Recycling is highlighted and provided with easy access at a main location in the hallway and in the group’s kitchenette.  We also have composting and utilize all reusable dishware and utensils.  If needed, compostables are purchased. We provide coffee and tea stations in addition to individual storage areas for food in order to reduce outside purchasing and disposable container waste. I frequent the reuse room and donate equipment for the lab Freecycles whenever there is an opportunity to do so.

We are always looking for new things to try and curious about what the next big green lab initiative or project will be!

The group’s kitchenette includes composting and all reusable dishware and utensils complete with a researcher dishwasher schedule!The group’s kitchenette includes composting and all reusable dishware and utensils complete with a researcher dishwasher schedule!

3. What drives the group to be sustainable and consider green options when conducting research?

I started working in labs nearly 25 years ago and worked in a tissue culture lab. I was disgusted with how much waste was generated as everything was trashed. Our researchers are aware of how wasteful and energy intensive the lab can be. I also feel like there has been a move in the past few decades towards the use of disposables and away from washing and reusing labware

People are delighted that there are systems in place and it helps to have a person in charge of supporting these endeavors. Researchers are smart and science driven and they all seem to be cognizant of environmental and sustainability issues. There is a “flow” to running the lab and green is part of this flow.

There is a “flow” to running the lab and green is part of this flow.

4. What advice would you offer to other groups who want to take more initiative?

If it takes effort it can be difficult to get people to do it. Make everything as simple as possible and you need someone to drive it whether it is within the lab or the Green Labs Program. Accessibility and awareness can help drive interest.

Accessibility and awareness can help drive interest.