The story of how two FEI microscopes found a (temporary) home on the hill


When the forklift began skidding down the dirt ramp to Richard Jones Hall carrying a crate of sensitive FEI equipment, Martha Wong saw her worst nightmare coming true.

For almost a year now, the project manager for OHSU Facilities Design & Construction had been leading an intense logistical effort to bring three specialized FEI electron microscopes to campus. (Read our companion story to learn more about the microscopes and how they will benefit researchers across OHSU.)

Announced last September, the three highly advanced microscopes are a key part of the OHSU/FEI Living Lab for Cell Biology, a partnership between OHSU and FEI to link FEI's state-of-the-art microscopy with OHSU's top biomedical researchers. Under the auspices of the OHSU Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine (OCSSB), the lab's long-term goal is to construct a detailed picture of cancer and other diseases at the molecular, cellular, tissue and organism levels, while also advancing imaging technology for the life sciences.

The physical location of the OHSU/FEI Living Lab for Cell Biology will eventually be within the Collaborative Life Sciences Building, now under construction on the waterfront.

The opening of the new lab was two years away, so the stakeholders all agreed, 'Why not bring the microscopes to the hill now so that researchers can start using them?' recalled Wong. "Everyone said that if a temporary space could be found, let's do it."

OHSU has six million square feet of physical space, according to Kyle Majchrowski academic and research project team manager in OHSU Facilities Design & Construction. "But, literally, we have zero space available," he said. So when Mary Stenzel-Poore, Ph.D., senior associate dean for research, contacted Wong about finding a temporary home on the hill for the electron microscopes, Wong knew it would be a challenge.

The microscopes required specialized rooms, in particular one that had tall ceilings, little vibration and a tightly controlled temperature range. Finally after several months of searching, the University Space Committee identified two rooms in the basement of Richard Jones Hall that could be revamped into working lab environments. It was January. The clock was ticking.

FEI's microscopes - the Titan Krios Cryo-Transmission Electron Microscope, Helios NanoLab DualBeam Scanning Electron Microscope and the iLEM (Integrated Light Electron Microscopy) Microscope - had to delivered and installed on July 1 due to both organizations' fiscal year requirements. Not beforehand. Not afterward.

That meant the facilities team had five months to complete a full remodel of the rooms, which included sophisticated architectural and engineering plans that reworked the ceiling and HVAC systems, and the securing of city approvals and permits. Normally, a project of that scope takes a year, said Majchrowski.

Then the move and installation had to be meticulously planned in coordination with Logistics. Special movers were hired. The route from where the truck would park to the new lab space was carefully mapped, and doorways and hallways measured. Many, many meetings took place involving personnel from FEI, Facilities & Logistics, the School of Medicine and other entities. Finally, all was set.

July 1 happened to fall on a Sunday. The day dawned cloudy. The night before it rained, and the ground was slippery. There was a heavy mist. A construction crew arrived at 3:30 a.m. to dismantle the doorway of the RJH loading dock to accommodate the Titan crate, which - true to its name - was about the size of a small car.

At 5:45 a.m., a 40-foot-long DHL truck bearing all the equipment arrived, and a small army assembled: four OHSU personnel, six movers, eight FEI personnel, the DHL truck drivers and shipping coordinator and five members of the construction crew.

By 6 a.m., the unloading began, first of noncritical pieces. The forklift driver began his descent down the ramp with the crate. As he began slipping, he maintained control enough to arrive safely at the dock, with the equipment intact. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The crate was unloaded and unpacked.

When the driver tried to return up the ramp, though, the forklift tires spun and spun. He was stuck. The movers had to winch the forklift back up the incline and ordered a new forklift with off-road tires that could negotiate the muddy slope. It would arrive in a few hours.

Meanwhile, the group hatched Plan B. Instead of moving everything down the dirt ramp into the loading dock, all the equipment that could fit would be loaded through the RJH front entrance using small truck jacks.

Plan B was going smoothly until the Helios reached the doorway of its renovated room. The equipment was too wide - by an inch. The construction crew demoed the wall and door frame to accommodate the needed width, and the Helios was moved in.

The team knew the Titan was too tall for the RJH front entrance. When the new forklift arrived, crew members loaded the crate and successfully drove it down to the loading dock and unloaded it through the demoed opening.

Finally, all the FEI equipment was situated inside, and the two microscopes were resting in respective spaces. (The third microscope, the iLEM, was moved into storage until space could be found for it.) It took six hours to move everything to their new location. The construction crew then spent several hours repairing all the doorways, and by 5 p.m. everyone was gone.

"It was quite an effort, but everything went in in the end," said Wong. "The whole planning and delivery process was very collaborative. We couldn't have done it without everyone's dedication and participation."

"Kyle, Martha and their team really drove this project and went above and beyond to make everything come together seamlessly," said John Bernatz, associate director for University & Research Facilities.

"I'm very proud that the Facilities & Logistics team is so focused on OHSU's missions and that they work so hard to help provide cutting-edge advances to our community," said Scott Page, associate vice president for Facilities & Logistics.

"These new microscopes are at the leading edge of imaging technology and will become a vital part of our university shared resources to help OHSU investigators further their projects and uncover new knowledge about cellular architecture and ultrastructure," said Mary Stenzel-Poore, Ph.D., senior associate dean for research. "I'd like to thank FEI, Facilities & Logistics and the many many people who played roles large and small to successfully bring these instruments to the Marquam Hill campus. It was a heroic effort that will pay dividends for science."