Scientists rushed to save lab specimens as California’s PG&E cuts powerNovember 2, 2019
José Cerca left his lab on the University of California, Berkeley campus Wednesday evening, the fateful day Pacific Gas and Electric began intentionally cutting power to wide swathes of Northern California. Cerca, an evolutionary biologist working at school’s Evolab, thought his workday was finished.
But then Cerca ran into his distressed boss who said, ominously, “We have to move everything.”
The news came that PG&E’s intentional blackouts — a new disaster strategy to limit catastrophic, climate change-enhanced fires during the state’s notoriously windy fall season — would cause Berkeley’s research laboratories to soon lose power. That’s terrible news for biologists, many of whom freeze collections of specimens, cells, and genetic material.
“Imagine eight huge freezers with 30 years of organized research,” explained Cerca, who recently joined the lab. “We have hundreds of thousands of spiders in vials organized.”
Their lab had to move quickly. They were able to ship one large freezer (larger than a typical fridge) across the bay to San Francisco, and identified a building they were told had back-up power. Over the course of five hours they moved the frozen, arduously-collected archive of arthropods, many from the Hawaiian Islands.
“It’s like me telling you to move all your furniture,” Cerca said.
Much of the Berkeley campus still lacks electricity. “We are without power to most buildings as of late last night [Wednesday],” Bob Sanders, the manager of science communications at Berkeley, said via email Thursday morning.
Fortunately, there is enough university-generated emergency power to supply electricity to essential freezers and refrigerators, Sanders said.
But there certainly isn’t enough power for the campus to function. For the second day in a row, classes were canceled for the prestigious university’s 43,201 students.
“It’s like me tellin