Quake Shakes New Zealand Chemistry | March 1, 2011 Issue - Vol. 89 Issue 10 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 10 | p. 10 | News of The Week
Issue Date: March 1, 2011

Quake Shakes New Zealand Chemistry

Natural Disaster: Upheaval closes Christchurch area universities
Department: Science & Technology
Keywords: New Zealand, earthquake

Chemists in and around Christchurch, New Zealand, are picking up the pieces from the second major earthquake to rock that country in less than six months. An estimated 240 deaths and a decimated city center have resulted from the 6.3 magnitude temblor, which struck midday on Feb. 22.

A 7.1 magnitude quake hit approximately the same area in September 2010, but it was much less destructive. Christchurch was near the epicenter of both earthquakes.

While it has been disruptive, the February quake apparently has not caused severe damage to universities in region. "We toured the labs immediately after the earthquake and found no significant damage, just a bit of broken glassware and spilled water baths," says Peter A. Gostomski, chemical engineering department head at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

September's quake ruined offices and labs, and it damaged an ultrahigh-resolution tandem mass spectrometer beyond repair, says Canterbury's chemistry department chair Antony J. Fairbanks. The full extent of damage to the chemistry building from last week's quake is not clear, but power was off for a few days so many samples stored in freezers may be lost, he says. "The new replacement mass spectrometer was installed a week before this second quake hit—you can imagine how frustrated we will be if that too is written off."

Canterbury's campus is closed until further notice as building inspections continue. Neighboring campuses in Christchurch and surrounding areas, such as the University of Otago and Lincoln University, also remain closed through at least March 14.

"We have had offers of assistance from colleagues around the world, which are wonderful to receive," Gostomski says.

Just about every home in the area has some damage, and many lives have been disrupted, says chemist Christine C. Winterbourn, a professor at Otago. Regardless of damage to facilities, the extent of the tragedy means "it will be some time before people will be able to concentrate on science," she says.

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