Harvard University COVID-19 updates

Department News

STAY CONNECTED_Harvard Center for Biological Imaging (HCBI)

STAY CONNECTED_Harvard Center for Biological Imaging (HCBI)

Doug Richardson (Director of the HCBI)

First off, we’d like to say a big “thank you!” to everyone for your cooperation as we worked to shut down the HCBI. Your willingness to use our lab-made hand sanitizer on your way in and out of the facility and wrap up your experiments by the March 18th deadline was appreciated and made our jobs much easier.

It was bizarre leaving the facility on the 18th. The quietness of the room after the last users were gone and every microscope, computer, UPS and chiller was shut down was surreal. I have never heard the HCBI that silent.

During this time at home, Erin, Chris and I have dug into several projects that we could never find the time for while the facility was open. On Tuesday afternoons (3PM) we’re discussing different image analysis routines and answering any questions you may have. On Thursday afternoons our lunch and learn lectures have returned a few months early (and in a rather different format with no free pizza ☹). If you’re interested, check out the HCBI website or the FAS Division of Science Core Facilities site for more details.  If you miss one/some, check out our YouTube channel. We’ve also been able to finish up revisions on some papers (and get them accepted!) and begin to develop help guides for common tasks at the HCBI.

As expected, the past few weeks have not been without their challenges. We recently had to cancel the HCBI’s 10th Anniversary celebration. This event had been in the planning stages for over a year. We were excited to host an amazing group of speakers that included several MCB faculty and Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell. This was a huge disappointment, but we’re hoping we can celebrate the 11th anniversary in 2021.

Additionally, we’re juggling several logistical challenges. Our new 2-photon microscope is currently in storage somewhere between Germany and Cambridge and we are working to delay equipment deliveries for the HCBI’s new satellite facility at the SEC building in Allston.

On a personal note, although my kids were nice enough to carve out a corner of their playroom (next to the blanket fort, beside the craft table) for me to set up a small office with some gear that I borrowed from the facility, this space comes with plenty of noise and regular cameo appearances in the middle of ZOOM meetings.

Homeschooling has also proved to be an interesting endeavor. Even with a trained elementary teacher in the house (my wife), it hasn’t been easy. Our son (Grade 1) already feels he has too much schoolwork and not enough Lego time while our daughter (pre-school) is upset that no one is sending her any “math equations” to do.

Despite this struggle, we are all learning a lot together. The kids have shown us how to perform addition without “carrying the one” and taught us that gummy bears can expand in water. Unfortunately, my attempt at extended learning – relating the gummy bear experiment to expansion microscopy – was deemed less interesting.

Outside of school our family has been trying to get some exercise walking and biking. My son recently became interested in mountain biking which required some critical1 bicycle upgrades (for father and son). Practice rides at the Beaver Brook North Reservation have been occurring on the weekends.

To try and contribute to the COVID-19 effort, my wife has been sewing masks to distribute and I’ve been helping my uncle scale up hand sanitizer production at his brewery, Redline Brewhouse in Canada. Most of our extended family are in Canada as well, so we’re doing our best to check in often.

Finally, our most recent lesson involved learning how to properly pose for a picture on the MCB website (always point at something science-y)!

1use of the term critical is under review


Erin Diel (Imaging Specialist)

While I miss the social and dynamic atmosphere of the HCBI and the surrounding campus, I am grateful for the support for staff to stay home to keep themselves and others safe. We are remaining connected to users of the HCBI with weekly seminars and office hours, and I am taking this opportunity to focus on image analysis projects that never found themselves at the top of the priority list during a busy day at the facility. I am trying to balance time spent on resources that can be shared widely and collaborative work with individual researchers. Overall, this has helped me plan how I can continue to carve out time for much needed analysis resources once our schedules go back to normal.

I am enrolled in a computer science class at the extension school, and I teach a neuroscience course to Harvard undergraduates, both of which keep me connected to the academic schedule and motivations of Harvard. These have helped me maintain some normalcy and pattern to each week, and they serve as an important reminder of the reasons why I enjoy working in academia.

I live with my partner and our cat in a tiny and cozy apartment. It is incredibly diverting to have a pet around, and she has acclimated to our disruption of her daytime peace.

My partner is a therapist, so her work is in high demand and privacy is essential. With a door and white noise machine combo, we have a HIPAA compliant workspace! We are really grateful for the opportunity to have coffee breaks and meals together and witness our professional selves. We are both training for Spring running races, which will now be virtual races, so we get outside most days for midday runs.

I find crafting frustrating and enjoy cooking mostly because I enjoy eating, so to get my mind off work, I sing to my cat or dance poorly in the living room. I bought some video games for myself for Christmas,  and the creatures of Hyrule are quite pleased with my efforts.


Chris Hellriegel (Zeiss Embedded Specialist)

I can only echo what Erin and Doug have already said: I miss our friendly users, the interactions with them and the myriad of manageable problems that show up in the HCBI quotidian (I don’t miss the hard ones, yet). I am grateful for still being embedded and able to provide my 2 pennies worth of input here and there. I can’t wait to be back – physically present in the facility – and I never thought I’d miss cleaning microscopes.

In my remaining time I am recording online tutorials for ZEISS, mainly on the topic of single-molecule localization microscopy – and learning a lot in the process (how to do voice overs and movie editing). I live with my son in the Oort cloud (outer suburbs) and it feels weird to be out of orbit, as we regularly forget which day of the week it is.