After months of shutdown, analysis, and preparation, the Bureau of Economic Geology has taken necessary safety precautions and recently opened many more of its facilities for ongoing research activities. The threats from COVID-19 are real, and Bureau leadership—working within institutional guidelines—has made reasoned decisions to ensure that returning scientists and staff can pursue vital energy, environmental, and economics research with limited disruptions and minimal concern about contracting or spreading the virus.
Before fully reopening, procedures were carefully crafted for people on-site to follow to be as protected as possible. Masks are required in all public spaces, and open areas are being frequently sanitized. Modifications have been made to the facilities, such as a plexiglass barrier installed around the main building’s front desk and foot-traffic patterns and caution signage posted throughout buildings. To further limit person-to-person contact, only a limited number of researchers and staff have been allowed to physically return to the research campus, with about two-thirds of employees continuing to work from home.
The ability to physically examine core and other rock material is indispensable to Bureau research, and reopening the core viewing facilities at the Austin Core Research Center (CRC) has been a top priority. CRC staff are now on-site and working every day to pull core from shelves and lay it out for analysis by researchers. Specific core viewing areas have been set up, and for safety, each one will only allow one person at a time.
“It is important to the Bureau to be able to lay out and view cores because it is essential to research efforts,” said Nathan Ivicic, who manages the Bureau’s core archives. “I have heard it said many times from our geologists that there is no substitute for being able to see the cores in person. I take tremendous pride in the work that we perform at the CRC, and I believe that shows in our efforts to keep research moving during these trying and challenging times.”
Most of the Bureau’s 15 labs are now up and running again. Among them is the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Lab, managed by Priyanka Periwal. These days, she is working on understanding the minerological composition of shale samples using some of the lab’s sophisticated equipment. “It is very important for the Bureau to have the lab operational. My work involves my presence in the lab; it cannot be done remotely. We practice social distancing and wear face mask at all times in the SEM Lab. I feel pretty safe to come and work in the lab” she says.
During these difficult times, it is inspiring to see the dedication from so many of our scientists and staff as they overcome untold obstacles to ensure that research that matters is being generated every day at the Bureau of Economic Geology.