Cautiously and optimistically returning to the bench

By Kristina Haase, Group Leader at EMBL Barcelona

After three long months under one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe, we are finally returning to our lab at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB). Although ‘we’ is not everyone – so far  only those who cannot carry out their work from home, like wet lab scientists, and those maintaining essential facilities have been allowed to return.

We have all been waiting in anticipation for the COVID-19 cases to drop and for life to return to a ‘new normal’. Finally, in Barcelona, things begin to appear that way now – the beach is open, patios are full, and shops allow customers inside – of course with strict distancing measures in place.

This new distanced reality is what we also face in the lab. What used to be the place of many face-to-face meetings for scientific and casual discussions, has now been reduced to mostly manual labour. It is a quietened hum that fills the halls in our corridors – in addition to the clatter of machines and pipetting. These sounds are, however, music to my ears, since it can be equated to doing experimental work. Before the lockdown, our new lab was just starting to gain momentum, and we are all eager to get back to where we left off. Our experiments have slowly begun, and already some have failed – but I must admit that I had even missed this while working at home.

While going back to the lab is exciting, we also have to think carefully about safety. Through extensive and careful planning, we ensure staff members and their families’ safety is not compromised. Our partial re-opening is in line with national guidelines, and so only those with tasks that cannot be performed from home are allowed to come to the lab. With a lot more careful planning than before, and the addition of new room-booking calendars, we work in a dance-like manner to avoid close interactions with one another. Despite these changes, I count us amongst the extremely lucky ones: not only can we continue to do our work, but we also have great colleagues that continue to inspire each other (even if only virtually at the moment).

This pandemic has taught us to adapt to strange, challenging and curious situations. Hopefully, this state has opened people’s eyes to acting as global citizens more than ever before. Personally, I want to thank and support our healthcare workers, without whom this new normality would not be a possibility. And to our fellow scientists who are working tirelessly to find a vaccine, we support you, as governments around the world should too – our lives depend on it.

Here in Barcelona, I hope we can enjoy the summer – without letting the sun cloud our judgment.

Kristina Haase – Group Leader at EMBL Barcelona