Research Impacts at the End of the Great Shutdown

As the world starts to come out of the Covid–19 shutdown, there are many things that will be required for research organizations to address prior to beginning their research again. Businesses have a similar but different process that needs to be completed as the organizations come out of the Great Shutdown. There are opportunities to reevaluate processes and procedures during the restart.

The items that need to be addressed from the research perspective include the workforce, equipment maintenance and calibration, material purity and integrity, and the validity of the most recent research. The initial consideration will include any new rules, regulations, and procedures the overall organization has developed and required to be implemented.  The challenge will be that all of these things need to be accomplished simultaneously. This is one of those times when a fast start may require additional assistance from recently retired personnel or external experts.

The workforce has several components that need to be addressed. The first one is the question of whether all personnel will be returning to the organization. It is possible that those not returning could have had a serious or deadly effect of Covid-19, still be recovering, found a new position, or have decided not to return to work until some later time. It is obvious that the new people who would need to be employed to replace people no longer available will require training. The returning people will need to go through a refresher training since it has been three months or more since they last use the equipment or processes, they will be working on. In addition, there may be regulations on social distancing that require changes in the workplace.

The equipment maintenance and calibration are an important part of any research effort. Since it has been months that the equipment has been non-operating, the equipment needs to have a thorough maintenance update. (I recall returning from a two-week shutdown to find that several of our wire binders had rust on parts of the mechanism. The temperature and humidity controlled rooms keep a level of moisture in the atmosphere all the time. We had to fix that before we can begin operating again.) After the equipment is up and running it will need to be calibrated. Since it has been months since its last operation, the equipment calibration should be the more thorough version to ensure the equipment is functioning properly.

While one normally does not think too much about the material purity or liquid contamination, these could be issues do to the long storage without usage. In previous blogs I have mentioned things like changing characteristics during shipment due to exposure to air. Liquids have the potential for dilution or contamination, which would change their characteristics when used in various processes. This requires some additional time to ensure the material you think you have is the material you actually have.

The last of these major points is the need to validate the research that was being done at the time of the Great Shutdown. Research that was not complete when the event happened needs to be redone from the very beginning. Research that had been completed shortly before the Great Shutdown needs to be replicated to ensure that the new experiments produces the same results as prior to the shutdown. The purpose of this extra effort is to ensure that something else in the workplace environment did not change and create an impact on the results that were obtained.

So, the real challenge is do everything at once and to do it is accurately as possible. In many cases the items will be done sequentially which will extend out the time for the completion of the research. Another portion of this time duration of lost research time is that it probably has a serious impact on the funds that were available for the research. This is one of the times in an organizations history that leading the way provide significant benefits. Being among the first, there are opportunities to pick up seasoned employees with skill levels that are greatly needed. Those organizations that start later may not have as wide a selection of skilled workers to choose from.

There are many more details that could be added to the startup of the research along with the actual startup of business. This could be a time to look at information flow, equipment priorities, hierarchical structure, equipment needs, and other items that would enable more accurate and faster research results. There will be strong competition within organizations for additional funding, so those who are prepared and move quickly will have an advantage. Good luck and God’s speed.

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About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
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