ION-DRI Programme


Object of the Month

Each month we bring you an interesting or unusual object connected to our journey to build a world-leading translational neuroscience centre

Sep 2023

These three new Zeiss LSM980 confocal microscopes have recently arrived. They have dedicated super-resolution detectors, allowing high-speed imaging of live and fixed samples down to <100nm detail and will be installed in the new imaging rooms in the basement of 256 Grays Inn Road, as well as in the BSU space, allowing multiphoton deep tissue imaging of live specimens. 

Zeiss LSM980 confocal microscope

Aug 2023

Gel Extractor Gel

This X-Tracta gel extraction tool is just one of the items now available via the Promega Helix vending machine in room G02 at Queen Square House. This disposable polyethylene tool cleanly cuts and picks up uniform slices of gel, containing DNA or RNA bands, eliminating possible cross-contamination and hazards associated with the use of razor blades. When we move into 256 Grays Inn Road in 2024, the vending machines will be installed across the building, part of a drive to improve, cut down deliveries and reduce our carbon footprint and waste, free up space in the lab and reduce admin.

July 2023

Site manager John Mitchell on site at 256 Grays Inn Road

This clod of earth was hand dug by site manager John Mitchell from the base of the excavation, 16 metres below ground,  for artist-in-residence Freya Gabie’s piece Furtive Ground, which will be installed at 256 Grays Inn Road. 

Freya has been commissioned to explore the unique history of the site itself and its significance as a hospital, creating an archive of research as well as public artworks for the new building. 

Freya said: “Furtive Ground uses the physical excavated material of the site with the chemistry of our brains to work with two compounds present in both; magnetite and calcium. Two clods of earth, hand dug by foremen from the base of the excavation, will be cast into chalk (calcium carbonate) from 35m below the site, and magnetite, and suspended through the building, in effect turning it into a compass; the magnetite clod always finding magnetic north.”

June 2023: Ceremonial spanners

A ceremonial spanner used to tighten the final bolt for Topping Out

The Topping Out ceremony was officially sealed by tightening the final bolt at the highest point of the building. Dr Micol Falabella did the honours, along with the construction team. Matt Blowers, CEO of construction partner ISG, presented a ceremonial spanner to mark the moment to Prof Mike Hanna  for ION, Prof Karen Duff for UK DRI and Prof John Duncan for UCLH..

May 2023: Autoclaves

Frontal view of Autoclave

The autoclave and glass-wash facility will provide a range of disinfection, sterilisation and waste treatment services for the whole of 256 Grays Inn Road, with easy access drop-off / collection points located on each laboratory floor. The facility will contain three large capacity 910 litre autoclaves and three high-throughput glass washers. These instruments recently underwent extensive quality assurance testing processes during a factory acceptance test (FAT) and will be installed into the new building in early 2024.

April 2023: 

Oil bubbles in water (credit Susan Wilkinson)

Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) is a renewable biofuel, made from vegetable oil and saves up to 90% carbon, compared to regular diesel or other traditional fuel sources, allowing us to meet government regulations and keep the air clean and less polluted for Camden residents and visitors

CONSTRUCTION FACT: 100% of fuel used by Getjar – the construction company in charge of the concrete frame – is HVO Fuel and this has meant in comparison to using diesel the project has saved 66.09 tonnes of CO2e from entering the atmosphere, that is the equivalent weight of roughly 13 adult elephants. 

March 2023: Eastman Dental Centre Owls

Owl- Royal Free Hospital

Artist Annie Cattrell spotted these two owl handles on the main doors of the Eastman Dental Hospital/Royal Free Hospital - now the entrance to our visitor centre on site at 256 Grays Inn Road. 

They are modelled sculptural reliefs cast in sturdy metal. It would seem that they have been regularly polished and, through time, the residue of the cleaning fluid has settled and embedded into the recesses of the sculptured forms and lettering. This has outlined and accentuated the depth of the modelling, highlighting them almost appearing to be backlit.

The owls seem like a protective symbol of wisdom, stillness and silence, ever vigilant, like gatekeepers protecting the intentions of this medical centre to remain free as the original intention of both the Royal Free Hospital and the Eastman Dental Hospital. 

Annie Cattrell

February 2023: Liquid nitrogen generator

liquid nitrogen pic

This wardrobe-on-wheels contains one of three liquid nitrogen generators that will maintain a state-of-the-art cryogenic storage facility at Grays Inn Road, as well as providing sufficient liquid nitrogen for on-floor laboratory needs. On-site generation will help to reduce carbon emissions associated with diesel truck delivery vehicles, plus no more heaving heavy cryogenic dewars around on liquid nitrogen delivery day! 

January 2023: Concrete skip

A skip on site at 256 Grays Inn Road

This concrete skip is used to lift and move wet concrete around site. It has curved rails on the base, so when lowered onto the ground, it will drop -  in a controlled manner -  onto  its side, meaning it can easily be filled directly from a concrete truck. Once lifted in the vertical position it has a chute at the base that can be lowered to pour concrete structures. This is generally used to pour smaller items such as columns and walls. 10,000m3 of concrete has been placed on site so far – the equivalent of 331 London buses.

Daniel Crisp, Construction Manager, ISG

Click here for more construction fast facts

December 2022: Recycled planters

Planters made from recycled paving stones

These planters have been designed by artist Harun Morrison, to feature as part of his ongoing commission to develop community garden spaces within the outdoor spaces in the new IoN-DRI development. They are made using recycled paving slabs; repurposing the fabric of the city for urban garden spaces, while also minimising their impact on the environment. Morrison’s project so far has been focussed on building a team of collaborators, forging relationships with local stakeholders and organisations with relevant expertise, and exploring relationships between plants and memory across different cultures. We are now laying the groundwork for a series of collaborative garden sessions to begin in spring 2023. 


November 2022: Electroformed rubber bands

Electroplated rubber bands

When clearing out a room in the Eastman Dental Institute, which had kindly been lent to me as a studio space, I discovered a pile of elastic bands heaped on a windowsill. The elasticity of the bands had perished through prolonged exposure to sunlight. Freezing them in time, so that when handled, they retained their fragile, quivering shape. For me, these bands formed an alphabet of sorts, the hieroglyphics of this site I was seeking to uncover. 

I was interested that this loss of elasticity, a defining feature of a rubber band, had brought new materiality to these objects, alongside interesting new associations and characteristics. This transition seemed to speak to ideas I'd been considering, around flux, renewal, and change, and felt connected to the future of this site, as a research centre for neurodegenerative disease. 

I electroformed each rubber band, a method that uses electric current to build a thin surface of copper around an object, to keep them in their suspended state. They now hang off the wall in my studio, in moments of contemplation, they often catch my eye, and each time I read something different in their form. 

Freya Gabie, Artist in Residence

October 2022: Stainless steel rebar

Stainless Steel Rebar

This piece of stainless steel reinforcement was specially-designed to be non-magnetic, so that it wouldn’t interfere with the scanners in the new MRI suite on Level B1.