Posted on: 9/05/24

Accidents happen all the time, especially when it comes to power-reliant storage equipment that stores temperature-sensitive products and samples. It's often hard to predict when your research might be at risk due to unforeseen circumstances like power cuts or loss of connectivity, which is why it is so important to have safeguards in place.

An automated monitoring system is the ideal solution, which helps ensure that you are always aware of any temperature or status changes that can occur in a storage area or equipment, giving you enough time to act in the event of an emergency. But don't just take our word for it. We've collected a few incident stories, from laboratories to research centres in recent years, that could have ended differently had there been an automated temperature monitoring system in place.

In February of this year, an article was published reporting that decades of research was destroyed after an interruption in the supply of liquid nitrogen to 16 cryogenic tanks at Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm. The incident happened sometime before Christmas when there was an issue that affected the supply of liquid nitrogen to 16 cryogenic tanks. Unfortunately, even though the tanks can go around 4 days without a supply of liquid nitrogen, given the holiday period, they were left without it for five. This resulted in the loss of the valuable samples that some media outlets have reported to be worth around 500m kronor (£37m). Other than being an intense loss for the patients involved, this incident also came with a bitter realisation: had the team been notified of the issue just one day earlier, the integrity of the samples could have been saved.

It was also reported later that the university had an automatic alarm in place to notify personnel of issues like this. However, there was a 'malfunction in the alarm unit', said Elisabeth Raschperger, researcher and senior lab manager at Neo, the affected lab at the university. This meant that the alarms did not work properly, only sending an email notification while the accompanying SMS got stuck in the server.

How could a reliable temperature monitoring system have helped?

At Contronics, our systems can measure and monitor a variety of parameters and equipment types, liquid nitrogen being one of them. Not to mention, we are consistently updating our systems to make sure that there is no room for malfunction of any kind. Therefore, had there been a Contronics temperature monitoring system in place, the liquid nitrogen issue would have been detected immediately. Not to mention that the system would have sent an alert to the team at the fertility centre via ProLog, our temperature monitoring solution, which would have been accessed onsite or remotely. We offer a wide range of other alert methods such as speech, push notifications, and local alerts. Having this kind of a heads-up could have made all the difference in helping avoid the damage caused by the issue.

In 2018, there was a storage tank failure at the Pacific Fertility Centre in California that resulted in the loss of around 3,500 eggs, embryos and other genetic material. It was reported that the freezers lost their supply of 'liquid nitrogen for a short period of time', which was the reason for the incident. From the article, it is unclear why this incident occurred or what the specific details surrounding it were however, one thing was painfully clear; the fertility centre's patients suffered a huge loss. The patients whose samples were destroyed were compensated as a result of the lawsuit that came about after the incident.

How could a reliable temperature monitoring system have helped?

While few details were given in the article about the malfunction, we believe that our monitoring system would have been able to notice the change in the liquid nitrogen supply, thanks to the temperature change that would have been detected. Having a continuous temperature monitoring solution with a comprehensive, real-time alarm system at the fertility centre would have bought personnel enough time to act and prevent the samples from getting damaged by the temperature excursion.

You may have heard of the incident that occurred at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York from one of our blog articles. It was reported that in 2020, 20 years' worth of valuable research was lost due to a freezer being switched off by a cleaner who wanted to silence the ‘annoying alarm’. The freezers didn't appear to have any backed-up temperature monitoring systems in place, which is what would have prevented such a devastating loss for the university.

How could a reliable temperature monitoring system have helped?

Our systems are resilient against data loss and are backed up by uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) to ensure that, in the event of an emergency or human error such as the example above, both data collection and storage equipment monitoring continue to work as normal even if there is a loss of power.

From all the articles above, while upsetting, it can be seen how these incidents could have been avoided, had there been a reliable temperature monitoring system in place to notify the team as soon as there was an issue. Out of the three examples mentioned, two involved an issue with the liquid nitrogen supply needed to keep the samples at optimum temperature. While that doesn't mean that the storage equipment was necessarily faulty, it does mean that proper measures could and should have been taken to ensure that if an issue like that occurred, the samples inside would not be negatively affected or permanently damaged. Or at least, that the team would have been given enough time to act. As for the incident at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the loss was due to human error, another factor to consider which is also something our monitoring systems are designed to avoid.

Do you want to avoid these kinds of incidents? Get in touch with us to find out more about putting a reliable temperature monitoring system in place at your organisation.