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Students Play Key Part in Advancing Research Safety Excellence 

Student-led initiative and innovation continue into third year for Northwestern’s RSSI

November 25, 2019 | By Roger Anderson

RSSI President Megan Wasson, left, and RSSI Vice President Laura Bancroft

With a new board, renewed funding, and a novel publication in ACS Central Science, the story of Northwestern’s Research Safety Student Initiative (RSSI) is being told like never before.

“We’re eager to continue the momentum gained since RSSI’s inception in 2017 and are extremely thankful for the support of outgoing board members as well as from the University,” says RSSI President Megan Wasson, a third-year graduate student in Omar Farha’s Research Group. “The new board will continue to develop our platform to position RSSI as a national model for the student-led safety movement.”

Wasson, who studies the design and synthesis of metal-organic frameworks, is part of a leadership contingent that recently met with Interim Vice President for Research Milan Mrksich to outline plans for the academic year. In 2019-20, the RSSI board expects to develop new and expand existing educational platforms and curricula for the Northwestern research community.

“Research safety is a shared responsibility,” said Mrksich. “These students have stepped up as partners with the Office for Research to advance the University’s discovery efforts while also helping to protect those who are making those discoveries.”

In the past two years, RSSI has launched an annual Safety Awareness Week, peer-led laboratory walkthroughs, a safety designate panel, and a Safety Minute educational platform, which is delivered before department-wide meetings.

“RSSI found an early stronghold and great enthusiasm within the Department of Chemistry and we are eagerly expanding our presence in Chemical and Biological Engineering and Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences, which have each started to deliver RSSI-led safety minutes prior to colloquia,” says Wasson.

Fifty-nine percent of participants during February’s Safety Awareness Week were from chemistry while engineering and biosciences represented another 27 percent. Those statistics were part of a recent research article co-published by former RSSI President Di Wang and former Vice President Agnes Thorarinsdottir.

“We’re hoping to serve a continually broadening population,” says RSSI Vice President Laura Bancroft, a third-year graduate student in Michael Wasielewski’s Research Group.

During the past year, three board members have presented RSSI initiatives at the American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting and RSSI has been invited to nominate representatives to serve on a panel focusing on the inception and operation of graduate student-led Laboratory Safety Teams at the 2020 Laboratory Safety Workshop at UCLA.

“RSSI continues to be a great success and was recently recognized with a new grant from DowDuPont to continue the amazing work being done at Northwestern,” says Michael Blayney, executive director of Research Safety. “The group’s impact both on campus and beyond is a testament to the work of these graduate students and their efforts to place safety at the forefront of lab operations.”