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News :: Environment
Cambridge's LISE Problem
13 Mar 2006
True to form, for their new Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering (LISE) Harvard University has spared no expense. Award-winning Spanish architect Rafael Moneo was hired to design the building with, according to the Harvard Gazette's Steve Bradt, "an unusual pearlescent façade that changes subtly with the day's lighting... sculpted pedestals... and an underground section designed to receive natural light." (1)

Local residents may live next door to a powder keg, but there's no doubt that keg will look fabulous.


BioLab Was Just the Beginning
lise.jpg
On January 24th after five months of construction, almost as an afterthought, the City of Cambridge Licensing Commission held a hearing on Harvard's request for a permit to store large quantities of "potentially" hazardous chemicals and fuels at the LISE. This was the first residents of the surrounding Agassiz neighborhood had heard about it. Naturally, they had many questions. Which chemicals, specifically, would Harvard be storing? Would they have hazardous fumes? Would they be in industrial quantities? If so, why store industrial quantities of hazardous chemicals in a residential neighborhood, just two blocks away from the Maria L. Baldwin public school?

Harvard simply ducked the questions.

Sensing residents' (understandable) apprehension, the Licensing Commission postponed a final hearing and recommended Harvard reps and Agassiz neighborhood residents continue the dialogue (one-sided though it was) at a meeting of the non-profit, non-governmental (read: "powerless") Agassiz Neighborhood Council on February 15th. Then the Commission could go about rubber-stamping Harvard's permit on February 21st with a clean conscience. (2) This hearing was later extended to March 21st. (3)

To date, the only coverage of what was revealed at this ANC meeting has come from their small-circulation newsletter, The Whistler. Even that coverage has downplayed the dangers of the LISE and ignored the frightening way in which Harvard has gone about ignoring residents' concerns and hiding the truth-- much like Boston University has been doing with its new BioLab.

Whereas the BioLab is located in a largely working-class, African-American and Latino area of the South End/Roxbury, the LISE will be in a once-working class, now thoroughly gentrified Cambridge neighborhood. And yet the two university/resident conflicts are somewhat proportional in a class-sense: the Agassiz residents may be whiter and better-off financially, but Harvard is the indisputable king of clout state-wide and perhaps even nation-wide. The conflicts fit a pattern of powerful, organized interests (state and private) engaged in increasingly flagrant violations of individual rights and community safety. While the BioLab deals in bioweapons such as anthrax and tuleremia, the LISE will have over a thousand gallons of combustible diesel fuel and some hazardous chemicals that remain unidentified, not to mention plans for cutting-edge nanotechnology research-- truly the stuff of science-fiction.


NANOTECH

One of the ironies of the LISE meeting is that Harvard brought in a nanoscience researcher, Dr. Eric Martin, to calm public fears about chemical explosions and fumes (3), when up until then the nanotechnology function of the building was barely public and nanotech compounds are potentially far more dangerous than any known chemicals. Wikipedia defines nanotechnology as "any technology which exploits phenomena and structures that can only occur at the nanometer scale, which is the scale of several atoms and small molecules." (4) In essence, it is the control and manipulation of the building blocks of matter. Reality as we know it is likely to be altered substantially by further nanotech research and implementation.

Potential downsides to nanotech research include chunks of the earth being transformed into a mass of "grey goo" by self-replicating nanobots that consume all organic matter and are difficult if not impossible to stop, or that "new classes of nanosubstances that could adversely affect the stability of cell membranes or disturb the immune system when inhaled or digested." (4) The likelihood of these nightmare scenarios is still disputed and probably will be for a long time to come, as so little is currently known about nanotech.

There is no good reason for such risky research to be conducted in a residential area. (Or to be conducted at all, some might add).


DIESEL FUEL

The Whistler reports that 1,080 gallons of diesel fuel will be stored at the LISE facility. To date, the diesel fuel has been Agassiz residents primary concern, as it is highly combustible. Harvard has argued that the diesel fuel is necessary for a generator to run "emergency life safety systems" in the event of a "normal power failure." (3)

Of course, residents should wonder why a normal power failure would require such elaborate emergency precautions. Perhaps Harvard is tacitly acknowledging the dangerousness of the research that will be conducted at the LISE¾ another reason for it not to be in a residential area.


UNDISCLOSED HAZARDS

Perhaps most troubling of all is Harvard's refusal to disclose which flammable and toxic chemicals will be at the LISE. The City of Cambridge has been fully complicit in this cover-up. At the Feb. 15th meeting Dan Turner of the Cambridge Fire Department characterized the aggregate amount of "flammable gasses and solids" at the LISE as "alarming." He continued, "Unfortunately, the fire department cannot say exactly what the chemicals are because of trade-rights laws." (3)

Residents cannot even be told what flammable and/or toxic chemicals they and their children at the Baldwin school might have to contend with in the event of a leak!



You Can Stop It

Cambridge residents and Bostonians, no matter what their economic background or race, should not tolerate such reckless behavior by Harvard University. It reveals a contempt for the public¾ a vision of us as expendable, as acceptable losses.

Contact local representatives, the Cambridge Licensing Commission, and Harvard University and let them know that you do not support the storing of hazardous chemicals in residential areas. Get together with friends and protest, or alert relevant organizations.

It's not too late to stop the B.U. BioLab and it's not too late to say "No" to Harvard's LISE plans! You are not expendable.


WEB SOURCES/LINKS
1. http://www.hno.harvard.edu/gazette/2004/06.03/17-lise.html
2. Click on the PDF of the February issue of The Whistler at http://www.agassiz.org/TheWhistlerNewsletter
3. Click on the PDF of the March issue of The Whistler at http://www.agassiz.org/TheWhistlerNewsletter
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanotechnology. For further information on the potential downsides of nanotech see the webpage "Nantotechnology and Its Dangers" at http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/Nanotech/nanotech.htm or the book Enough by Bill McKibben.

This work is in the public domain.
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Re: Cambridge's LISE Problem
12 Mar 2006
the neighborhood counsil should do a lot more than it is doing! let it be a local meeting place and thennnn maybe then you can stop harvard. although harvard will get what harvard wants. why dont they put this facility on their campus, not in a neighborhood. not to mention all the nanotech stuff..
Re: Cambridge's LISE Problem
14 Mar 2006
Pretty much the whole of Cambridge and Allston/Brighton up to Newton and Kenmore Sq is owned or controlled by Harvard, MIT, BU and BC. So wherever they decide to put these labs, if they are in the city limits, they will be in 'neighborhoods.' There is clearly no place for this kind of dangerous research in populated civilian areas.

Grey goo is pretty much seen as a remote possibility even by anti-nano people. Full-scale self-replication is at least a decade away, but there are more immediate concerns to deal with. Like the toxicity of nanomaterials which can cross the well-protected blood/brain barrier, and which are being developed as vehicles to deliver chemicals to specific areas of the body. Right now the industry is whitewashing nano as good for cleaning up the environment and a big leap in treating diseases, and there is no doubt there are powerful potential applications for nano. But very few people seem to be talking about how it is MONOPOLIZED by the giant corporate and academic labs run by some frighteningly egotistical scientists whose only goal is to be first to invent some new application. No attention to risks and definitely no involvement or input from the rest of the planet. It has relevance to just about every area of our lifes: labor, democracy, inter-national politics, environment, education, medicine, and so on- and nobody is bothering to ask the people affected about their ideas and concerns.

Oh yeah, then there's the military, with plenty of funding and empowered by the likes of Rumsfeld and Cambone to develop God knows what fiendish dirty tricks to use against their enemies [read: the people]. Get ready for an era of no privacy, of microscopic surveillance devices and invisible mechanical agents of Big Brother. They will be able to deliver chemicals directly to our bloodstream or implant carcinogens directly in our bodies in the next few years, if not sooner. And the threat to our ability to resist grows every day we allow them control over these incredibly powerful new technologies.

This might all sound very sci-fi and paranoid, but read for yourself. There's plenty of good info on the web. They are using very sophisticated public relations tactics to market the technology to the public after learning their lesson from the massive opposition to genetic engineering. But the weak spot in their marketing is that such little is known to the public, and people are mostly in the dark. We will need to educate ourselves very soon in order to be effective in battling the future threat.

Looks like we have a very clear target in this LISE project. Thanks for posting this info, and let's see whether we have the power as people of conscience to hold these greedheads accountable.
Re: Cambridge's LISE Problem
14 Mar 2006
If you want to write a credible article, don't cite Wikipedia or science fiction "grey-goo".

1000 gallons of diesel fuel? That's almost 1/8th the capacity of a gas station! The horror!
Re: Cambridge's LISE Problem
15 Mar 2006
grey goo is not sci fi- it was publicized by people like bill joy, chief scientist of sun microsystems, in a seminal cautionary article on these emerging technologies called 'why the future doesn't need us' in wired magazine. it's just less likely in the near term than some other nightmare scenarios. give the author credit for bringing up something not nearly enough people are talking about.
No Good Reason to Oppose Science
16 Mar 2006
This nanolab isn't in a "community of color" so what's the excuse this time?
Re: Cambridge's LISE Problem
17 Mar 2006
did you read the article, or the comments?
Re: Cambridge's LISE Problem
17 Mar 2006
"the LISE will be in a once-working class, now thoroughly gentrified Cambridge neighborhood:

The author is not only not answering the question of how the lab is unjustified, the author is blaming white people for living in a Cambridge neigborhood, as if they are guilty for living there.

The author owes everyone an explanation on how he arrives at his conclusion that the paying residents of this area don't belong there, and why science at the nanoscopic level is inherently evil. Otherwise this is just some Kaczynski style rant.
Flipside is even lamer than I thought
19 Mar 2006
I used to think Flipside was just a computer program that automatically shat out responses to every BIMC posting, like a dumbed down version of the Postmodern Essay Generator. Then I met the man and realized he actually looks like Tom Hanks with a neurological disorder. For someone who hates Indymedia, why did he copy their logo for his banner at the zine fair? (Which he probably found out about from Indymedia).
Anony-diss?
20 Mar 2006
Ha ha. So which were you? The scrubby bearded kid who looked like a fat John Waker Lindh? Or the kid with gross metal jewelry (?) hanging out of his nose? Or the kid who took a Spartacus pamphlet? Or just one of the many people who pretended not to see my awesome table amid all the pink flowery stuff and bootlegs of the Stolen Sharpie Revolution?
FLIPSIDE flipped out when I met him.
26 Mar 2006
He spat out insults at this guy and then kicked his table over. He's as loony as a Canadian dollar. Someone should catch him with a butterfly net and lock him in a padded cell.
Re: Tables
28 Mar 2006
That's easy for you to lie.
You are an anonymous pussy.

I might hit someone with a table, but I have never kicked one over.

As you cackle to yourself and pat yourself on the back with your very limp wrist, remember that you are the person who keeps his identity a big secret while telling stupid little lies about people.

I on the other hand am a public figure, and my name and identity are known. You are a pansy. And what's worse, you must enjoy being a pansy.

I really can't say too much more on the topic. You're a groupie.
I can't stop it, someone help me!
28 Mar 2006
I keep posting back and forth to myself.
Re: Cambridge's LISE Problem
29 Mar 2006
" I keep posting back and forth to myself."

Nobody believes that. Everybody knows its one of you clubhouse dorks.

Hey. There's a new name for one of your folk punk nads.
Re: Cambridge's LISE Problem
29 Mar 2006
haha i said nads. I meant bands. freudian slip. Not a nad among you.
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Re: Cambridge's LISE Problem
21 May 2006
I am a nanotechnology researcher on the Physics faculty at Harvard and the Scientific Director of Harvard's Center for Nanoscale Systems (http://cns.fas.harvard.edu) which will reside in the LISE building.

I have been involved with the LISE project since long before construction began and have personally presented plans for LISE to the leadership of the Agassiz Neighborhood Council and the Cambridge City Council on several occasions over the past four years. A number of us have given talks at the Museum of Science on what we do, and we welcome all questions. All along we have tried to answer every question put to us honestly and openly. If you have a question about the LISE building or a real worry, send me an email: marcus (at) harvard.edu.

As far as I know, there's no such thing as gray goo. The people involved in this research are not frighteningly egotistical (not frighteningly, anyway), or owned by the department of defense, or "greedheads."

There is a world of amazing science waiting to be discovered at the nanoscale, and while it's true that technology can be used to make people's lives worse, it can also be used to make peoples lives better, and to enrich culture with new ideas.

If you want to know what kinds of nanoscience is going on at Harvard, look at http://cns.fas.harvard.edu or at http://nsec.harvard.edu or send me an email.
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