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Electron Microscopy User Policy

Last updated 19 June 2018

1. Introduction

This document contains the various policies that govern access and usage of the facilities. This document must be read, and clearly understood, before any work can commence.

Electron Microscopy (EM) houses five electron microscopes and a wide range of preparation equipment. It is located next to Confocal Microscopy. These two facilities provide a comprehensive and complimentary advanced microscopy facility.

As a regional resource, EM is accessible to all members of the research community.

EM tries to be as responsive as possible to the needs of investigators. If there is an item of equipment you feel would be useful, a technique you feel we should provide, or some other aspect you feel could be improved, please let a staff member know.

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2. Access to the facilities

Staff and students wishing to use the facilities must first contact the Technical Manager to organise a meeting and complete a 'Project Registration Form':

For PhD, MSc, Honours, PGDipSci students

To discuss the requirements of a new project with a staff member of EM, it is expected that the lead supervisor(s), and supervisor(s) with EM expertise/experience, attend at least the first meeting along with the postgraduate student. A scheduled meeting may be postponed by an EM staff member if the supervisor(s) indicated above are absent from the meeting.

For postdoctoral fellows, assistant research fellows and research technicians

To discuss the requirements of a new project with a staff member of the EM, it is expected that the lead Principal Investigator, and other Lead or Associate Investigators with EM expertise/experience, attend at least the first meeting along with the staff member. A scheduled meeting may be postponed by an EM staff member if the investigator(s) indicated above are absent from the meeting.

On receipt of the Project Registration Form the EM Technical Manager will assign a contact person to the project. This person will be responsible for training and supervising the new investigator while they are in the Facility (see the additional information for more information about the role of the contact person).

The approval to use the facilities and equipment without supervision (such as before 8:30 a.m. or after 5.00 p.m, or during the weekend) will only be given once competence has been proven. Prior to this, a new investigator is not permitted to work unsupervised.

In some circumstances an approved investigator may wish to train a new investigator themselves. Approval to do this will only be given by the EM Technical Manager, and only after discussion with the appropriate contact person.

To comply with the Health and Safety Act 1992 all visitors to the facility must be introduced to a member of the EM staff, and the purpose of their visit be approved.

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3. Training in techniques and equipment usage

The contact person will provide training in all the required electron microscopy preparation techniques, microscope operation and safety procedures required for the successful completion of your project. No other person is permitted to train a new investigator without the approval of the Technical Manager. This stipulation is to prevent damage to equipment, the dilution of knowledge and to maximise the productivity of the facility.

The aim of the EM training is to enable investigators to obtain the skills to facilitate their ability to work as independently as they desire. Ongoing support and assistance is always available those who wish to achieve a higher level of competence or understanding of the techniques used.

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4. Equipment usage and after hours usage

Initially, a new investigator is not allowed to work without supervision, and is not allowed to work in the facility after hours. Approval to use the facilities and equipment without supervision and/or after hours will be given by the appointed contact person or the Technical Manager, once competence has been proven.

It is the responsibility of all investigators to ensure that the equipment they use is left ready for the next investigator at the end of their session. In particular, rooms and equipment must be left clean, tidy and operational for the next user. Approval for access may be withdrawn in the event of investigators neglecting or damaging equipment, using equipment in an inappropriate manner or in a way for which they have not received training, neglect of safety and disposal procedures, or admitting unauthorised persons access to the facility.

If an investigator has not used an item of equipment for a period exceeding three months they are not permitted to use that equipment until a refresher session has been held with either their appointed contact person.

A high degree of professionalism is expected with regard to equipment usage. Being a multi-user facility any equipment damage due to negligent or inappropriate use may result in other investigators research being compromised.

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5. Level of support from staff

The main functions of the EM staff are to maintain the facilities, train new investigators, develop new techniques and support undergraduate practical classes. It is not a function of the EM staff to act exclusively as research support staff for individual investigators. However, as time permits, they are able to provide support to investigators.

It is assumed that prior to the submission of a proposed project the investigator will have completed a literature search to locate methodology papers for their particular specimen. The investigator should have a clear idea of the type of information they require and express this on the Project Registration Form.

The investigator and the contact person should agree on a protocol for the microscopy work. It is important that the investigator and the contact person (or the EM Technical Manager) understand the aims and scope of the project before commencing work. The investigator is responsible for ensuring that the protocol is appropriate to their specimens, and will provide the answers they seek. It is also expected that the investigator understands the time, and processes involved in preparing a specimen for examination in the electron microscope. In the case where no protocol is forthcoming from the investigator, a suggested protocol can be devised. This will delay the commencement of the project and no responsibility can be taken for results that differ to that which the investigator envisaged.

The EM staff can offer advice on the suitability of microscopy techniques, and on the quality of the microscopy data. Interpretation and analysis of images obtained from the microscopes is the responsibility of the investigator.

In the case of student investigators, it is assumed that the academic merits of the project have been discussed with their supervisor(s), and permission given to undertake the work.

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6. Level of liability

Work is undertaken in the facility is on the understanding that it will be done to the best of the EM staffs' ability, and in good faith. However, the nature of electron microscopy is such that the various techniques do not always produce consistent or expected results. It is assumed the investigator understands this.

EM will not be liable for any delay, non-performance or loss of specimen arising from or attributable to circumstances beyond its direct control. Delays may result from, but are not limited to, inadequate instruction, equipment malfunction, delays in the supply of goods and services, and labour disputes.

EM will use its best endeavours to achieve the projects aims at the estimated cost and shall apply all resources which are necessary to achieve the project aims.

Any exceptions to the above apply only when the level of liability of the facility has been agreed to by both parties after negotiation. The agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties prior to the start of the project.

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7. Safe work practices

The appointed contact person will introduce new investigators to the current safety procedures and disposal methods. Failure to abide by the procedures in the EM's Health and Safety Policy will result in access being withdrawn.

Anyone who wishes to use the EM's preparation facilities or laboratory MUST first undergo training by an EM staff member or the Sector Manager that covers the controls in the EM associated with the HSNO Act, Biosecurity Act and Health and Safety Act.

For approval to work in the facility you are required to declare on the Project Registration Form that you have read and understand the Health and Safety Policy and that you will read all supplementary health and safety documents supplied for specific practices. This declaration means that you will comply with their contents.

All investigators intending to bring infectious agents and/or hazardous chemicals to the facility must first submit a 'Letter of Intent' to the Centre Health and Safety Adviser, outlining the:

  • Purpose of bringing in such a specimen/chemical
  • Risk involved
  • Precautions that will be taken to reduce the risk
  • Spillage mop-up procedures
  • Safe disposal procedures that will apply

For hazardous chemicals that are unknown to the EM staff a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) must be provided with a 'Letter of Intent'. The 'Letter of Intent' must be approved by the Departmental Health and Safety Adviser and the EM Health and Safety Adviser before the infectious agents and/or toxic chemicals can be brought into the facility.

Any specimens requiring PC2 level containment conditions must have this requirement noted on the Project Registration Form.

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8. Issue of keys and security

Keys, door codes and swipe card access are available to approved investigators for access to the facility, and for other locked resources as required. When the project is completed, all keys issued must be returned.

Keys must never be passed to a third party. EM must be notified immediately if a key is lost. Do not share the door codes with others until they have completed their induction. You must abide by University policy that your ID card is for your personal use only and that you will not allow anyone else to use it.

When leaving EM during the day, and if no staff are around, you are required to lock the door that you leave by. This applies even if you are leaving for only a short period.

If you are the last person to leave the facility at the end of the day please ensure:

(i) All the lights in the area you were working in are turned off

(ii) Any gas outlets you may have used are off

(iii) All taps are turned off, especially important in the preparation lab

(iv) The door is locked behind you

If you have been using an electron microscope, or any other equipment with a vacuum system, you must ensure that all the pump cycles are completed before leaving. Failure to do this may result in serious damage to equipment.

If you have been using one of the microscopes please ensure you have followed the instructions on the notice 'Before You Leave the Microscope Room'. This notice can be found by the door, and also gives the phone numbers of the EM staff to contact in case of problems.

Please report any suspicious behaviour in the basement area at any time to an EM staff member, or the University Security Centre, phone 5000.

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9. Charging policy

At the first meeting, it is expected that an account code is provided for the new project to charge EM expenses to. The expiry date of this account code is also required. Authorisation is also required from the lead supervisor or lead Principal Investigator that expenses accrued in EM by the new project can be debited to the account code provided.

EM operates a cost recovery budget. Before work can commence an account code must be supplied to which the costs incurred can be charged.

Contact allan.mitchell@otago.ac.nz for the latest advice on user charges.

For those who undertake their own work in the facility, an honesty system of cost recovery operates. Each user is required to record their own expenditure on the appropriate cost recording system (either paper based or the computer terminals). Failure to comply with this system will result in access being withdrawn.

Project costings can be provided if required. At least two weeks notice must be given if this service is required. Information about the cost of a project as it proceeds can also be provided. Arrangement for this service must be made with the Technical Manger.

EM (or its administrative committees) reserves the right to reconsider the Charging Policy at any time. If alterations are made to it, all users will be informed well in advance.

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10. Priority of work

Priorities are set by the Technical Manager in consultation with EM staff and users.

As a regional resource, EM is accessible to all members of the University research and teaching community.

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11. Booking system

Most major items of equipment in EM must be booked for use. Bookings should be made via the web-based system ('Calcium' software) once access to the system is made available to the investigator. Note that the booking system is for equipment only, and new investigators will usually require the supervision of an EM staff member when using the equipment. Therefore, unless specifically told otherwise, new investigators should not book equipment without checking with their contact person first.

Bookings can be made for a maximum of two weeks in advance, that is, the current week plus the week following (booking for undergraduate practical classes and maintenance/repair work are the only exceptions).

All bookable equipment and the imaging facilities have a 'turn up' time of 15 minutes after the booked time has started. If you are running late you are requested to phone and indicate that you will be late, but that you still want your booked time. A note to this effect will be placed on the appropriate equipment.

If you do not arrive in the 'turn up' time, and do not ring to indicate you still want your booked time, the booked time may be used by another investigator.

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12. Undergraduate practical classes and projects

The facilities are available for undergraduate practical classes, undergraduate group projects and postgraduate student training. An application must be made to the Technical Manager, and approved, before any practical classes can be run. The application must include:

(i) The name of the academic responsible for the practical class

(ii) The dates and times of the practical class (Note: if the practical class is to run after normal working hours, provision must be made for overtime payment)

(iii) The objectives of the practical class, the general content of the practical class and an outline of how the practical class will run

(iv) The support required from the facility. This must include specific technical support, equipment that will be used, and locations of the practical class

(v) What handout material will be required to be prepared by the EM staff

It is important to plan ahead and notify EM of your intentions as far in advance as possible. This is to ensure your practical time does not clash with another group and to allow time for any preparation of material. In all normal circumstances the academic-in-charge of a course or paper must be present during the teaching of that course. Any other arrangement must be agreed to by the Technical Manager. Before a practical class can commence an account code must be provided to which all the costs incurred will be charged.

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13. Access to imaging facilities

The computers are provided for EM users to work with their captured digital images. The imaging suite is able to be booked using the 'Calcium' booking system.

The imaging facilities are also available to staff and postgraduate students of the Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology for non-EM related imaging work. The use of the imaging facilities for EM related work is the first priority.

In the case of equipment malfunction please contact one of the EM technical staff. Users are not permitted to dismantle equipment themselves. The EM technical staff will attempt to rectify the fault as soon as possible but they may not always be immediately available.

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14. Staff desk areas and computers

A staff member's desk area and computer is that staff member's personal space. An EM staff member's computer is not to be used without the permission of the staff member.

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15. Library

EM maintains a comprehensive book library. All are available for use by EM users. Books must be used within the facility. If users wish to remove a book a book loan form must be filled in and given to one of the EM staff. A return date will be required. If you wish to keep a book beyond the return date, please ring the facility and make an arrangement. If the book is not returned within a reasonable period after the return date the borrower will be charged the replacement cost of the book.

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16. Publications resulting from work and ownership of images.

One of the measures of EM's effectiveness is the published and/or presented results obtained from work carried out in the facility. It is important that EM has an up-to-date record of work that was done in the facility, including all publications resulting from the work, oral presentations such as seminars, and conferences.

It is the responsibility of the investigator to inform the Technical Manager of all presentations and publications resulting from work done in the facility.

If the resources of EM contributed in any way to a publication, there should be a general acknowledgement to Electron Microscopy (OMNI)

Electron microscope images are the property of the investigator.

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17. Complaints policy

Users, or supervisors of users, who are dissatisfied with:

  • The support they receive
  • The quality of the work undertaken
  • A staff members actions
  • Other users actions

must direct the problem to the Technical Manager.

If on discussion with the Technical Manager a resolution is not forthcoming then the matter should be escalated to the OMNI Unit Manager for final resolution.