Carnegie gets big donation from hospital

Children's hands over $25,000 in surplus equipment

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With Children's Hospital moving to Lawrenceville this spring and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History facing constraints on research funding, Dr. Edward V. Prochownik's mind began to roll.

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC likely would have surplus equipment it would discard before the big move, while the museum has 35 researchers desiring laboratory equipment for their DNA research on the evolution of plants and animals, including dinosaurs.

So it reduced to this: One institution had an excess supply of what the other institution had an excess craving for.

With that thought on his mind, Dr. Prochownik inquired about the future of equipment at Children's, which put out a call for any unneeded or underused equipment that could be donated to the museum.

"It was a win-win situation, the way funding is today," said Dr. Prochownik, director of oncology research at Children's and a member of the executive committee of the volunteer museum group, Carnegie Discoverers. "It is easier to get funding for the medical sciences than if you are studying dinosaurs."

When Children's officials delivered an equipment list to the museum, Cynthia Morgan, curator of the museum's section of botany and manager of the molecular laboratory, studied it and sent a one-sentence reply by e-mail:

"I will take all of it."

The result is a mother lode of ovens, pumps, power generators, a swirler and even a "redirac fraction collector," all with long scientific names attached. The simplest things were a "copy stand base" and eight graduated cylinders.

The equipment, which Dr. Prochownik valued at $25,000, is destined for the museum's molecular laboratory for use by the museum's entire scientific staff. It will be used to analyze DNA at higher volumes and with more sophistication than current museum equipment. DNA analysis is key to the museum mission to study the natural history and evolutionary relationships of organisms.

"It's an immense help," said Samuel Taylor, director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. "This is highly valuable and highly useful equipment for our laboratory.

"If the museum had to buy this equipment, it would have taken months of fundraising."

The donation from Children's is the direct result of a Carnegie Discoverers' initiative developed by that group's president, Richard Moriarty, who formulated a plan last summer to make a wish list of equipment, then raise money to buy it.

His plan included providing museum patrons better access to museum scientists to forge relationships and spark conversations that could benefit both, with an added boost to fundraising. The initiative prompted Dr. Prochownik's idea to seek equipment from his own employer.

Dr. Taylor said the Pittsburgh region has a thriving biotechnical industry, which also might want to join Children's in experiencing the joys of giving.

"There might be others with excess equipment they are disposing of, or replacing, that we'd find very useful," he said.

And Dr. Prochownik has the double advantage of seeing the equipment transfer from the perspective of giver and receiver.

"We did not dispose of good equipment," he said of Children's. "And I feel good because the Carnegie [Museum] is a good cause.

"It was the collegial thing to do."


David Templeton can be reached at dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.


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