Alok Tayi, postdoctoral fellow in the George Whitesides Lab, Faculty for Arts and Sciences, and team, were awarded a Student Sustainability Grant from the Office for Sustainability for the 2014-2015 academic year for their project entitled "Greening laboratories using Wi-Fi connected tools." They have documented their experience and findings in a series of four blog posts that will cover: the conception of their idea, their initial prototyping and design challenges, testing in labs, and lessons learned. In this post, Risham Dhillon, College '18, updates us on the team's work to deploy Wi-Fi monitoring to Harvard labs. 

A researcher’s treasure chest may as well be his freezer and/or refrigerator, housing fragile reagents, solutions, and samples at just the right temperature and humidity. 

And yet, despite how valuable and necessary it is to have an operating and reliable freezer/refrigerator, it is particularly common for scientists to be constantly interrupted in their experimentation by freezer or incubator breakdowns and malfunctions. Such inconveniences can pose financial burdens, take up lots of time, and jeopardize experiments. To make matters worse, the environmental toll that such malfunctions make is a significant matter. 

That’s why we’re excited to announce that we’re in the midst of launching a freezer/incubator monitoring beta-testing program throughout many Harvard research labs, with the help of the Harvard Office for Sustainability. 

So what exactly is the game plan? We’ll be heading to interested labs to deploy our hardware (our startup is now named TetraScience and our hardware is called 'TetraScience Link' ) device to lab freezers and incubators. This involves connecting our Link device through Wi-Fi to a web portal through which a researcher can access and keep track of the temperature measurements. The best part is that the installation and setup can all be done in less than five minutes, making the process simple and seamless. This way, we’ll help make freezer breakdowns nightmares of the past, not realities of the present. 

Such an initiative will have clear implications on energy consumption as well. At Harvard, research labs consume about 44% of the total energy. An analysis of labs at the University of Edinburgh determined that 34% of the electrical consumption occurred due to refrigeration needs. Similarly, a report by the University of British Columbia details how many inspected incubators in labs were utilizing significant amounts of energy and were being left on 24/7 despite being empty or very close to empty. In fact, laboratories often use about three to four times as much energy as an office, highlighting why it’s especially important that we focus on tackling energy consumption at the lab level. By providing labs with a dashboard view of just what’s going on, labs will be able to understand and hopefully better manage their power usage. 

And this is just the beginning. Many of the Wi-Fi-based tools that we’re working on developing will allow researchers to remotely control their lab equipment, so that certain pieces of equipment can be shut down with a single click. Our ultimate vision is to propel science research while providing researchers with tools that helps them manage their energy consumption, and we’re thrilled that we get to work alongside the Harvard Office for Sustainability to make this happen. 

Stay tuned for lessons learned and results.