More than a week after a tornado blew through the Wooster campus of Ohio State University, researchers were finally invited back today en masse to figure out the next steps for returning to work. On 16 September, 209-kilometer-per-hour winds tore through the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center late in the afternoon, damaging or destroying a dozen greenhouses, three buildings, and 800 trees in a research arboretum. Home for 75 faculty and about 80 graduate students doing agricultural, environmental sciences, and bioproducts research, the campus is still officially closed.
For plant molecular biologist Esther van der Knaap, a flattened greenhouse means a setback of many weeks, or perhaps even a year, for her lab's research on the genetics of fruit shape and development in tomatoes. Power losses caused growth chambers to deviate from their set temperature and humidity, so plants died. "I have a big National Science Foundation grant", she says, and no plants to collect data from. The community has offered greenhouse space, but because of specific environmental requirements for her tomatoes, she's not sure she can use it. Instead, she's hoping for the quick erection of temporary greenhouses. "We're going to start sowing our first seeds in the lab on Monday and just hope the greenhouses are ready" when they sprout, she says. She is one of many on campus scrambling to pick up the pieces.