Laboratory Safety Awards Winners 2020

The Safety Services Lab Safety Awards are part of our commitment to recognizing labs with a strong safety emphasis who are doing their part to Think Safe. Act Safe. Be Safe. The awards are endorsed by the faculty-led Chemical and Lab Safety Committee.

Moulé Lab: 2020 Grand Prize Winner

Moule Lab
Moule Lab team (l to r, top to bottom) Owen Lee, Xiaolei Chu, Justin Mulvey, ZairaBedolla-Valdez, Goktug Gonel, Alice Fergerson, Tucker Murrey

This year’s grand prize winner and recipient of the $6000 cash prize is The Moulé Lab led by Dr. Adam Moulé! They “perform interdisciplinary research in the general area of Organic Electronics,” according to their website. Most of their work deals with basic science research like studying new material properties and developing processing techniques which will hopefully help in making solution-processable electronics. Organic electronics are potentially cheaper to produce and are less energy-intensive than silicon which is the most comparable material to it at the moment. Even though their lab research spans many fields, safety is always a constant. Safety officers Tucker Murrey and Meghna Jha prioritize researcher health by keeping the work area safe for everyone, every time they come in to do work. 

“We don’t want our researchers to take unnecessary risks. Being a research university, we are producing educated individuals, we want to teach young researchers about the importance of a safe work area, to release them out into the real world as well-rounded professionals.”

  • Continue Reading about the Moulé Lab
  • At the Moulé Lab, Tucker put in place a system of creating procedural standard operating procedures (SOPs) separate from the ones already enforced by UC Davis, to further promote a safe academic setting. One of which was used to show the procedural steps to take for etching indium tin oxide substrates with a boiling hydrochloric acid bath.

    “The integration of procedural SOPs has a lot of benefits. There is an easy to find location for all of the safety procedures, group knowledge is easily saved, and accidents are avoided. To help train young researchers we have them write and update the SOPs with the supervision of an experienced researcher, who is with them at every step in the process. This is a good training tool for them and a way for us to ensure that everyone is thoroughly trained.”

    At the moment they are thinking about using their prize money to purchase some UV air purifiers, that will be used to protect against Corona Virus and smoke particulates.

Heffern Lab: College of Letters and Science

Heffern Lab 1
Heffern Lab (from l tor r) Marie Heffern, Justin O'Sullivan, Joey Abouayash, Hannah Lee, Chantel Mao, Jessican San Juan, Samuel Janisse, Vanessa Lee, Nathaniel Harder, Adam Hillaire, Skyler Gillette, Michael Stevenson, Quang Pham, Ryan Neil

Led by Dr. Marie Heffern, the Heffern Lab, based out of the College of Letters and Science, studies the interactions between metals and peptide hormones in biological systems. More specifically they are looking at how metals like copper, zinc, and iron react with peptide hormones. Specifically, they are studying the C-peptide hormone and how metals may interact with it because it is known to be involved in insulin regulation. To better understand this interaction would result in the possible development of novel therapeutics that could help combat diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Due to the variety of their research, lab safety officer Justin O’Sullivan says that safety impacts the quality of their work daily. 

“We are a super diverse lab. On top of doing organic synthesis that comes with a heavy set of safety protocols, we also use biological systems such as cell culture and animal models which come with a completely different set of safety procedures. Due to this we have to be extremely safe to ensure that we are working in an effective and efficient environment.” 

  • Countinue Reading about the Heffern Lab
  • Heffern Lab 2
    Nathaniel Harder uses a microscope to check the health of his cell line
    To ensure the safety of everyone in the lab they make sure that everyone is up to date on department issued protocols. For this they have a safety binder filled with standard operating procedures (SOPs) for every type of process they have or will complete in their lab. 

    “When Dr. Heffern started the lab, we made an SOP for everything. Two years ago, I trained an undergraduate student who accidentally started a small fire in the lab. We immediately said, let’s make an SOP for recrystallizations (the procedure he was working on) that says do not use heat guns. We also had him fill out an incident sheet with a column for preventative measures to keep in mind for next time. This information is now available for anyone who will want do this procedure in the future.”

Ji Lab: School of Veterinary Medicine

Group photo of the Ji lab.
Pictured (from left to right) is postdoc (Tao Zhu), bioinformatics programmer (Anthony Brown), rotation student (Julia Mouat), and Jr. Specialist (Chi Pham) on Julia's last day of rotation.

Dr. Hong Ji is a part of the Respiratory Diseases Unit at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine located at the UC Davis Primate Center. In the Ji lab, you will find a team focused on strengthening their lab safety through encouragement and dedication.

“We are researching how epigenetic mechanisms might mediate the impact of environmental exposure during critical development windows (e.g., infancy) on increased susceptibility to diseases, like asthma. Currently, the lab is focused on epigenetic regulation of disease severity in childhood asthma and how diesel exhaust particles and other exposures affect the epigenome and susceptibility to chronic diseases,” said Dr. Ji.

  • Continue Reading about the Ji Lab
  • Photo of Chi Pham and Tao Zhu.
    Postdoc Tao Zhu and Jr. Specialist Chi Pham conducting research in the tissue culture room. Zhu is observing slides under a microscope while Pham is preparing for cell culture in the biosafety cabinet.

    The Ji lab is focused on explaining the epigenetic regulation of chronic diseases. Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes are expressed.  They are also sampling nasal cells of monkeys to monitor the epigenetic effects caused by the wildfires in California. Dr. Ji combines molecular and bioinformatic analysis of methylome, chromatin, and gene expression analysis with the immunologic and physiologic characterization of disease models to understand genes and pathways that might contribute to disease etiology and pathogenesis.

    “We encourage lab safety through a positive reinforcement method that helps lab members develop good lab safety habits,” said Lucy Cai, lab manager.  

    Every lab member undergoes extensive safety training since the lab works with human samples, animal models, and tissue culture. Weekly equipment check-ups are a must for the Ji lab which consist of ensuring the lab materials are properly maintained and functional.   Additionally, Cai organizes training ‘refreshers’ every few months to keep the protocols at the top of their list. Given the lab’s location, the Ji lab also prioritizes security by requiring lab members to follow strict protocols.

Leal Lab: College of Biological Sciences

Group photo of the Leal lab.
Dr. Leal stand with members of the Leal Lab (from left to right): James Lu,  Flavia Franco,, Su Liu,  Linya Zhang, Walter Leal; Tiantao Zhang, and Pingxi Xu.

Dr. Walter S. Leal leads the Molecular Basis of Insect Olfaction & Chemical Ecology at UC Davis College of Biological Sciences. While earning his Ph.D in Japan, Dr. Leal learned the motto “safety first” and applied it to his own lab at UC Davis.

“The Leal lab is focused on researching the molecular basis of insect chemical communication in order to develop environmentally friendly strategies for monitoring, controlling, and surveillance of insect vectors. One of our main objectives is to identify approaches that will help control or prevent the transmission of vector-borne pathogens to humans,” said Dr. Leal.

  • Continue reading about the Leal Lab
  • The lab has built a strong safety culture through communication and trial and error.  Every week, (pre-COVID) lab members would meet to discuss their research findings as well safety concerns. This group-learning allowed everyone in the lab to learn from each other and prevent incidents. Aware of the hazards associated with UV light, the Leal lab wears three levels of protection, in addition to the standard safety googles, when working with UV light. This sort of enhanced protection is also applied to researching mosquitoes.

    "Although mosquitoes in the lab are not infected, the insectary has a strict protocol to prevent the escape of mosquitoes, including an extra door," said Dr. Leal.

    Currently, the lab’s focus is understanding the function of a mosquito’s olfaction in deciding where to lay its eggs. The lab’s research will aid in capturing the eggs of disease-carrying mosquitos and prevent them from spreading. This research has proved vital as yellow fever mosquitos, vectors for Zika virus, were found in the city of Winters and other towns in California. It must come to no surprise that given their research the Leal lab-made safety their priority.

    A demonstration of their commitment to lab safety is the COVID safety protocols the lab implemented in late February, even before the regulations became university policy. Since the lab has many overseas visitors in the lab, Dr. Leal made sure everyone was safe by monitoring their symptoms and increasing sanitation protocols.

Nolta Lab: School of Medicine

Photo of Whitney Cary, lab manager.
Whitney Cary, lab manager, feeding brain organoids in the biosafety cabinet.

As the Director of the Stem Cell Program at the UC Davis School of Medicine, Dr. Jan Nolta has cultivated an exemplary lab safety culture over the past few years. Dr. Nolta’s lab consists of different research teams, as well as cores, which focus on developing therapies that will use mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and other adult stem cell types to deliver factors for treating Huntington’s disease, Jordan’s syndrome, HIV, and other illnesses.

“Our lab’s contributions can be described as “bench to bedside” as research for the lab has been involved in various clinical trials of gene and cell therapy, most recently the lab has entered clinical trials for an HIV treatment,” said Dr. Nolta.

  • Continue reading about the Nolta Lab
    Photo of Missy Pham.
    Missy Pham looking at brain organoid cells through a microscope. 
    Dr. Nolta’s lab of over 40 people is characterized by its organization and special attention to lab safety as exemplified by their weekly audits of lab equipment to ensure they function properly in order to reduce any potential safety hazards. Due to the nature of their research, the Nolta Lab requires every person who enters the lab to complete more than 15 LMS courses concerning lab safety and they emphasize proper PPE attire and implementation. An example of the Nolta Lab’s commitment to safety is the required standardized equipment training, developed by Cary, that all lab members must take before working in the lab. The last stage of safety comes when Cary meets with lab members individually to go over safety protocols again to ensure members are well acquainted with safety procedures.

    “Dr. Nolta and I believe in training lab members early so that they build good habits and become safe for themselves and safe for others in the lab,” said Whitney Cary, lab manager.

    In addition to making groundbreaking research, the Nolta lab is focused on training the next generation of scientists by hosting high school students as part of a CIRM-funded SPARK program during the summer (pre-COVID), who participate in the lab and complete a project.

Vogel Lab: College of Agricultural and Environmental Science

Vogel Lab
Vogel Lab Team (from l to r, Sarah Kado, Francis He, Mohamed Ahmed, Chris Vogel, Carla Dahlem, Lisa Tran)

Working with harmful chemicals might sound scary to the average person but to the Vogel Lab research team, working out of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Science, it’s just another day at the office. Their research led by Dr. Christoph Vogel, focuses on environmental and molecular toxicology, specifically looking at toxins and pollutants which are harmful to human health. The goal of their research is to understand the molecular mechanisms of the development of chronic inflammatory diseases which are created by the exposure of environmental toxicants and pathogens to the human body. This will hopefully lead to the development of new therapeutic substances and strategies targeted towards these diseases. Dr. Vogel states that with the introduction of carcinogens and toxic chemicals into their everyday lab procedures, safety is of the utmost importance. 

“It is essential to have a supervisor who cares about lab safety. Everything starts with lab safety. If a researcher does not feel comfortable in the lab, then that will interfere with the production of high-quality data. They need to feel confident in what they are doing especially when in our case, we are working with known carcinogens and chemical toxins.”

  • Continue Reading about the Vogel Lab
  • Vogel Lab 2
    Christopher Vogel and foriegn exchange student Brisbane Tovilla, preparing a PCR assay to analyze gene expression.
    He also adds that they take many proactive measures to ensure the safety of their lab, like requiring the use of safety equipment such as masks and gloves and extensive safety training when dealing with chemicals.

    “Every new member that joins our lab goes through a lot of online lab safety training classes. We make sure that they complete all of the classes along with personally taking them through a walk-through of the entire lab. Then we show them how to use all the chemicals, machines, and what to do and who to call in case something goes wrong. This way we are staying ahead of any accidents and helping to prevent them all together.”


Extra Credit Spotlight

  • Melotto Lab
  • Photo of Melotto Lab
    Photo of an individual bench and shelf in the Melotto Lab. 
    The Melotto lab maintains several practices to help keep the lab safe and tidy. Within the Melotto lab, each person has their own designated space which includes an individual bench, shelf, refrigerator, and freezer space. This allows each person to be responsible for the organization of a particular area and minimizes the need to move materials around within storage spaces to locate items.

  • Blanco Lab
  • Photo of fume hood in the Blanco Lab.
    Labeled chemicals inside the fume hood.
    The Blanco Lab is aware that keeping a safe environment for research comes hand in hand with a tidy lab. For example, the Blanco lab carries out all work with hazardous chemicals in the fume hood. This includes labeling and disposing of the chemical waste appropriately.