...Peel checked the NMRs’ cryogen levels and found that although the nitrogen needed topping off, the helium was still okay. Now the team had a decision to make: Keep the NMRs going, or discharge the magnets in a controlled manner and bring them up to room temperature.
As long as the school had access to liquid nitrogen, which it did, they could keep the instruments running. But just because they had liquid nitrogen didn’t mean they’d be able to get it to the NMRs. Without electricity, the elevators didn’t work. During that visit, the team used a cherry picker to lift a tank of liquid nitrogen to a terrace with access to the 500-MHz instrument, but that was a solution no one saw as safe or sustainable.
The team weighed its options. Discharging the magnets wasn’t a trivial operation. It would take some sort of power source—a car battery, for example. And without liquid helium on hand, they couldn’t be sure the magnets wouldn’t be damaged in the process.And this conclusion for which we can all learn from:
After talking with the National Guard troops on campus, the team learned it could have access to portable, gasoline-powered generators. These could be used sparingly to run the elevators to deliver the liquid nitrogen. This, they decided, was their best option....
The chemistry department didn’t suffer any extensive losses to research. The biology department and researchers at the medical school were not so lucky. McPherson says he didn’t even think the story of the NMR rescue was noteworthy until he learned that every other university in New Orleans with superconducting NMRs had lost their magnets to quenches.
As for lessons learned, the school now keeps a large stock of liquid nitrogen on hand during hurricane season, and it has a much more detailed emergency plan. Most faculty have an emergency contact number outside New Orleans and an additional e-mail account that’s not linked to Tulane.Hardening facilities for natural disasters is probably not so high on folks' priority lists, but it definitely is worth some thought.