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Idle Research Equipment Feeds Formula for Future

The News Journal, Written By: Jonathan Starkey, April 24, 2011

Lois Ann Lazor admits that her job search has gone cold.

In fact, Lazor, a former biochemist at AstraZeneca who lives north of Wilmington, has had few promising leads since she was laid off last August in the wake of the drug company’s decision to end research operations in Delaware.

Lazor was one of 550 people working in labs in the firm’s sprawling campus off U.S. 202 in Fairfax to lose their job. With the workforce trimmed, AstraZeneca has decided to demolish those buildings and shrink the campus by almost 25 percent.

But several hours a week, Lazor is working make the best of a sour situation.

She’s joined a partnership that includes the Delaware BioScience Association, the Delaware Technology Park and the University of Delaware working to donate unused lab equipment from AstraZeneca’s shuttered labs to public school students across the state.

“I was very cost conscious when I was at AstraZeneca,” said Lazor, who is an advisor to UD students working on the project. “I was responsible for procuring supplies and making the most effective use of materials that we had. To do that in a small way as a part of this project is somewhat satisfying to me.”

AstraZeneca, which now employs about 3,500 people in Delaware, has agreed to donate thousands of pieces of equipment, including graduated cylinders, columns, beakers, safety gloves and pipettes to Delaware’s public schools.

Leaders in the technology park and the bioscience sector in Newark are organizing the effort and University of Delaware students are doing the dirty work.

Two teams at the university are coordinating logistics — setting up systems for ordering equipment, and distributing it to needy schools.

Rishi Singh, a 21-year-old senior from Wilmington, is leading the student team that is building a database of available equipment. The database will be hosted online, so schools can log on, find what’s available and place orders.

“It’s about halfway built,” Singh said this week. “We have been able to talk to one district and we’re actually getting stuff out to them in the next two days.”

Red Clay Consolidated School District is the early adopter. Superintendent Merv Daugherty, who is also rallying other superintendents, said the donated equipment could save the district more than $20,000 by eliminating the need to order new lab equipment for the 2011-12 school year.

The list of available equipment was “enormous,” Daugherty said.

“Cell scrapers. Sample cup liners. Filters. Soap and saline solution. Bags to contain items in,” Daugherty said. “The list goes on and on of equipment science people use every day. We’ll take it.”

At last count, nine districts had signed on. According to Daugherty, the list includes Smryna, Cape Henlopen, Laurel, Red Clay, New Castle County Vocational Technical, Polytech, Appoquinimink, Sussex Technical and Christina.

Mike Bowman president of the Delaware Technology Park, a Newark-area research campus, and Bob Dayton, president of the Delaware BioScience Association, a trade group for biotech firms here, said the project could be a boon for science education statewide. They’re looking for other companies to ultimately participate by offering up equipment for schools.

Both showered praise on the Delaware students leading the project.

“Talk about a real-world experience,” Dayton said.

Caitlin Kelliher, another 21-year-old University of Delaware senior, is part of the team coordinating the physical logistics of the project.

Each week since February, Kelliher and others have been toiling in a warehouse at the old Chrysler site in Newark, breaking down 50 pallets of equipment and organizing them into packages that make sense: one for graduated cylinders, for example, another for miscellaneous glassware. This is where Lazor and Chris Veale, another former AstraZeneca employee, come in: They’re helping the students identify much of the equipment.

“We had to figure out how we were going to organize this inventory,” said Kelliher, of Boston. “I’m not used to seeing high-tech lab gear. Chris and Lois have been extremely helpful.”

The students, who are working on the project for credit, are now beginning to package requests from schools. Initial deliveries should begin early next month. Last week, Kelliher was handed the first order form from Red Clay.

“It’s great to be pushing out these orders,” Kelliher said.

Contact Jonathan Starkey at 324-2855 or jstarkey@delawareonline.com.

DONATE OR REQUEST LAB EQUIPMENT

Companies looking to donate equipment, or school districts interested in requesting equipment, should contact Alok Patel at the Delaware BioScience Association at 452-1104 or alok.patel@delawarebio.org