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UW-Madison researchers plan return to lab

UW-Madison researchers prepare to return to in-person work at the labs (Courtesy: Morgridge Institute for Research)
UW-Madison researchers prepare to return to in-person work at the labs (Courtesy: Morgridge Institute for Research)(NBC15)
Published: May. 27, 2020 at 4:03 PM CDT
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For many, working from home is a transition but researchers at UW-Madison can only do so much outside the lab.

Steven Ackerman, the UW-Madison Vice Chancellor for Research, says many employees found ways to keep busy.

“A lot of them have been able to step back and write reports, write papers, or design new experiments,” said Ackerman. “We’re getting to the point where some researchers need to get back on campus to use facilities.”

CEO of the Morgride Institute for Research Brad Schwartz says much of the work done by researchers can be applied to other areas of science.

“At a time like this, everybody is looking for a way to help,” said Schwartz. “We’re looking for ways that research can have an impact on COVID-19.

Currently, the only researchers allowed to be on campus are ones who are working on projects relating to the study of COVID-19.

“It’s very selective and restrictive,” said Ackerman. “One of the criteria we have is that the research has to have the ability and potential to address the COVID-19 crisis. So, it may be looking at, vaccinations or how the virus works or how the virus spreads.”

Schwartz said one project aiding in understanding COVID-19 includes research done by Morgridge Institute about the study of blood coagulation.

“We’ve used our previous knowledge to sort of help where we can,” explained Schwartz. “We’re looking for ways that their research can have an impact. Sometimes it’s pretty obvious but sometimes it’s more subtle.”

Morgridge Institute is collaborating with scientists in New York and California to study blood clotting in COVID-19 patients as part of a clinical trial.

Ackerman says the goal is to slowly bring back employees to the lab to conduct other research.

“It’s absolutely critical for us to get back to campus,” Ackerman said. “It is much more frustrating and much slower to make those advancements than sitting down side by side and having a discussion.”

Starting the week of June 1st, researchers would slowly be allowed to come back if they cannot do anymore of their work from home.

There will be new guidelines in place and because of the lab setting they will be more strict than the recommended public health guidelines.

“If you're in a room or a lab with another person, that restriction is not just the function of a distance,” explained Ackerman, “It's a function of how long you're in the room, what you're doing, if you're moving, or what the air flow is.”

The pandemic has also impacted the work of graduate students which assist with projects as part of their studies.

UW-Madison is finalizing their plan to allow graduate students to resume work in-person, especially if it’s part of a graduation requirement.

“We have a whole committee looking at graduate education in the fall and what that will look like,” Ackerman said. “Our number one priority in that whoever comes to campus, we bring them here in minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19.”

The researchers say they’re eager to continue applying science to the everyday world.

“Those sorts of fundamental discoveries are absolutely necessary for us to make the applied discoveries that society is counting on right now,” said Schwartz. “If we can’t get back to work, those sorts of things can’t happen.”

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