EVCP Expresso – August 2021

Dear Colleagues,

August – it’s commonly thought of as a long month, i.e., 31 days with no holidays. I’ll give you two: National Vinyl Record Day on August 12 and National Tell a Joke Day on August 16.

For National Vinyl Record Day – this is going to sound ironic but bear with me – I encourage you to listen to the special Radiolab podcast series called “The Vanishing of Harry Pace.” It’s about Black Swan Records and is based on the book by Paul Slade, Black Swan Blues: The Hard Rise and Brutal Fall of America’s First Black-Owned Record Label.

When was the last time you had a great laugh? One that rendered you speechless and in tears? It’s so wonderful and cathartic that I wrote about it in April 2019. Shutdown was not a fun period, but on my EVCP immediate office Zooms, team member Susie Kuo would end our time with a “dad joke,” bringing a much-needed smile to all of our faces. So, for National Tell a Joke Day, send me your best!

Three of my favorites:

  • What did the photon say to the hotel bellhop? …No luggage, I’m traveling light.
  • What type of fish is made out of 2 sodium atoms? …2 Na
  • I ordered a chicken and an egg from Amazon. …I’ll let you know.

This month’s Expresso brings updates on recommendations from the Parnassus Research Programming Task Force and on UC’s status with regard to the California power grid. It’s an interesting pair of topics, and I appreciate you spending a little time with both of them.

It continues to be a stressful and challenging time as we navigate wildfire season, the California drought, and rising cases of COVID-19 due to the Delta variant. I hope you’re keeping up to date with our COVID-19 protocols, wearing your mask, washing your hands frequently, and taking good care of yourself.

Speaking of the coronavirus, late last week we learned that our UCSF Library will house the COVID Tracking Project, a national database donated by The Atlantic, documenting the face of the pandemic in the U.S. Congratulations to University Archivist Polina Ilieva and Digital Archivist Charlie Macquarie!

Remember, if you have something to tickle my funny bone – or an idea for a future Expresso topic – let me know at [email protected].

Kind regards,


The PRAB and More: Research facilities to get a big boost on Parnassus

I hope you’ve been following the news about the PRAB – that’s shorthand for the Parnassus Research and Academic Building planned for the site of UC Hall. The excitement continues with the recent announcement of the hiring of renowned design firms HGA and Snøhetta.

While the PRAB will anchor the revamp of our Parnassus Heights campus and provide incredible new space for our world-class researchers, it’s not the end of the story.

In February, the UCSF Space Committee, which I co-chair with Brian Newman, senior associate vice chancellor of UCSF Real Estate and vice president of UCSF Health, sought the help of Tamara Alliston, professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, to lead the Parnassus Research Programming Task Force.

The task force aims to create a Parnassus where research space across the entire campus meets the needs of all investigators and supports them in fulfilling the scientific and clinical potential of their work. It also is helping recommend programs that will populate the PRAB when it’s ready (in 2026), and those that will relocate during the remodeling of existing Parnassus research space.

To get there, Tamara says, the task force undertook its work like scientists. “Our scientific training demands that we answer unknowns by taking several different approaches,” she says. “Just like you can’t rely on one assay to answer a big question in the lab – we are using many sources of information to guide these recommendations.”

In the case of Parnassus, the task force collected information from its own wide-ranging membership, as well as from town halls, listening sessions, and surveys. The group also looked at data from the work done by others, including UCSF’s Real Estate Services and previous task forces, and group members had their own intensive conversations and deliberations, looking for common themes in the feedback.

I hope you read the recent email from the task force that provides an update on progress made thus far. As described in the email, the task force recommended organizing the campus in accordance with four overarching Discovery Themes:

  1. Regenerative Medicine and Developmental Biology
  2. Precision Health Equity
  3. Infection and Inflammation
  4. Systems Physiology and Organ Communication

In addition, through their work, the group outlined the macroenvironment needed for implementation of the task force recommendations:

  • Space governance: Historically, space was allocated by department chairs and other means. The task force recommends “a more programmatic vision,” Tamara says, in which policy is changed to create flexibility, while still working with the chairs and other critical stakeholders.
  • Remodeling of existing research space: This effort will fail if some people move into the PRAB, but the majority are left with outdated research space that needs to be renovated. The Space Committee recognizes that this is a high priority and is keen to identify potential solutions. It’s going to take a significant commitment of funding, but we simply have to do it.
  • Physical connectivity: “Connectivity is essential,” Tamara says, “both internal and external connectivity across new and existing space.” Researchers are particularly excited about “the way core resources can be made more available and the way to facilitate both intentional and stochastic interactions among investigators to foster our scientific progress.”
  • Clinical research space: The Parnassus campus urgently needs purpose-built clinical research space, ideally sooner than 2026. Should it go in the PRAB? Elsewhere? Tamara says, “Wherever it belongs. That’s actually the guiding principle for the task force. Just like for basic science, the clinical research space should be positioned wherever those research activities can be most successful.”

The task force is still open to receiving comments and questions – please email [email protected].

“All of the recommendations we make hinge upon these four key elements being resolved,” says Tamara. Even though they need to be accomplished by groups outside of the task force, the group reminds us that “everybody needs to have them front of mind. We can’t wave a magic wand and they’re fixed. They’re going to take some real work and changes to the way UCSF operates.”

The Space Committee is reviewing the distribution of the proposed programs that would be within the Discovery Themes and considers creating the right macroenvironment for Parnassus research space a high priority. We are committed to address them with concrete solutions.

This is not being done in a vacuum. Due to the vision, commitment, tenacity, and partnership of our faculty, we are changing the way we assign and consider space at UCSF.

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Heat, Wind, Fire, and Power: UCSF prepares for flex alerts and potential outages

Twice last month, the California state energy situation quickly reached a crisis level. Parts of California were in the midst of a severe heat wave, and rolling blackouts were expected. Governor Gavin Newsom asked that all University of California locations utilize emergency generators to the extent possible for the 48-72-hour period following the alert. In accordance, UCSF Facilities Services immediately transferred power to emergency back-up generators to effectively reduce energy loads on the state power grid. Given this happened so early in the summer, this event strikes me as a big deal.

In response to extreme heat events, wildfires, and the strain on the state electrical grid, PG&E is increasingly ready to implement flex alerts and potential outages, and we anticipate this trend to continue for the next few years. The three UCSF hospitals located at Parnassus Heights, Mission Bay, and Mount Zion are exempt from power outages; however, campus buildings are subject to power interruptions.

I’ve learned a bit more about how UCSF campus research facilities are equipped with back-up generators. You probably already know that in the event of a power outage, red outlets indicate where back-up power is available by way of these back-up systems.

Except for the Parnassus Heights campus, UCSF campus buildings are not designed to support normal operations during a power outage. The Parnassus Heights campus is supported by the Central Utility Plant that will provide power to the entire campus under almost all circumstances.

With outages expected to be more common in the next few years, we are looking at ways to harden power systems particularly at the Mission Bay campus. The Mission Bay campus is supported by building-specific back-up generators, which are designed to support all fire and life safety systems, as well as a portion of research equipment. Although UCSF Mission Bay buildings are not designed to maintain normal operations in the event of a power outage, lab buildings typically have what is called a “critical power riser” and are capable of supporting approximately 30% of the lab equipment. Determining which pieces of equipment in lab spaces are plugged into the red outlets is very important.

Facilities Services launched a Lab Services Initiative in 2019 that is dedicated to comprehensively supporting lab equipment and space. Each lab research space throughout campus was evaluated for access to (1) e-power, (2) seismic bracing, and (3) freezer monitoring.

Throughout these assessments, Facilities identified where access to red plugs existed in lab spaces, how many -80°C freezers were braced, and which freezers were being monitored remotely. With these outages becoming more commonplace, Facilities Services remains steadfast in finding ways to increase the number of red plugs to provide back-up power for researchers. In the meantime, we have built custom extension cords to help facilitate connections to red plugs in the event of an emergency. We are also providing free temperature monitoring and seismic bracing for -80°C freezers. Additional services will continue to expand to help prevent research loss and build better emergency power stability.

While Facilities Services is doing everything possible to minimize the impact of power outages to our buildings, they need your help to prepare if you are supporting lab research, animal care, or clinical operations:

  • Make a plan: Review critical equipment and make sure it is connected to the red electrical outlets mentioned above.
  • Refer to the lab services maps completed by Facilities Services for buildings across campus.
  • Update contact lists for critical equipment, including freezers.
  • Work with partnering labs to have a plan in the event of an outage.
  • Schedule a Lab Services back-up power review with Facilities Services.
  • Contact Lab Services for freezer temperature monitoring if you do not have it already.
  • Sign up for WarnMe and the Facilities Urgent Notification system to receive updates on power flex events and outages.

Thank you to my colleagues in Facilities Services, Sean Aloise, Paul Landry, and Adam Schnirel, who provided their expertise to bring us this important information!

California will always be our Golden State, but we have to adapt to the rolling blackouts and prioritize our use of precious energy wisely. Please plan ahead, confer with colleagues, and use your resources mindfully.

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Dan’s Tip of the Month

movie poster for Summer of Soul with black and white photos of various performers and the large audienceWhat do Woodstock, the moon landing, and the Harlem Cultural Festival all have in common? The summer of 1969 – a pivotal one for many! And, although the first two have become the stuff of legend, the third largely remains obscure – until now. The festival was a massively successful celebration that featured absolutely first-class performers – Mahalia Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Nina Simone, to name just a few. It drew 300,000 people over the course of six Sundays that summer. Once again, Black history has been excluded from the canon of American history, but thankfully the festival was filmed, and that fifty-two-year-old footage is now the basis for the documentary Summer of Soul, the directorial debut of Questlove. The film is another significant touchpoint of understanding as we continue the struggle against anti-Blackness and is a must-watch for any music lover. It’s available on Hulu, which is offering a free week-long trial.

Also, tune into the July 21, 2021 episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Her interview with Questlove is a great complement to the overall experience.

And by the way, check out The Apollo on HBO for another stunning documentary on the depth and brilliance of Black culture in America.


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