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Fire Destroys Southampton Fibre-Optics Center

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the bad-science dept.

Science 201

Sam Haine '95 writes "BBC News reports that a fire has burnt down a CS facility at the University of Southampton. It's notable because the facility was one of the best in the world." From the article: "Some of the most advanced research work in the country, and indeed the world was carried out in this facility ... We probably will have to start from scratch, and it will take a couple of years to rebuild the facility"

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I hope they're backing up data! (4, Interesting)

yagu (721525) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912742)

I'm only speculating, but I hope for their sake they have all of their data backed up and off-site. How ironic would it be for a company steeped in high speed communications technology ostensibly with the capability to set up their own redundant high-speed SAN to lose data and research in the fire? I'm hoping they didn't, but wonder if they did, considering their projection of a couple years to recover, and also having to start from scratch. Does that mean for the research?, or the building only?

Worst case scenario more like couple of decades (5, Insightful)

MMaestro (585010) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912884)

More like couple of decades worst case scenario. Even assuming they backed up all their data off-site, its gonna take years to clean up and build a new building (~1 year for cleaning, estimate about 2~5 years to rebuild and bring the whole thing back up to speed). On top of construction, theres the loss of the machines, facilities and temporary unability to do work elsewhere for sometime (can't replicate that kind of research in your average college computer lab.) Theres also the now temporarily work-less researchers, the obvious political fallout and having to figure out how the fire started in the first place. Theres also the matter of who's gonna foot the bill for cleaning, construction and replacing all the lost material. On top of ALL that, I doubt theres a magic 'put everything back the way it was before button' on the backup servers which can instantly bring all the data back for researchers quickly and easily.

Combined, you're looking at an easy 5 years lost research time best case scenario. Worst case scenario you're looking at anywhere between 10~30 years lost time since some scientists may not want to wait for the facilities to be rebuilt and just take their expertise elsewhere and their not the sort you can replace easily. Theres always the distant (but unlikely) possibility, that they might not even rebuild the facilties and simply shelf or sell off the data to others.

And of course, this doesn't even touch the financial costs, the damage to the school's prestige and damage to the school's pride.

Pressure relief. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13913139)

I rather doubt the entire nation has only one of these facilities. They may have only one with this degree of capability, but chip and optic fabs are a little more common than that, even if they are expensive overall.

Re:Worst case scenario more like couple of decades (2)

jrockway (229604) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913237)

> There's also the matter of who's gonna foot the bill for cleaning, construction and replacing all the lost material.

Likely the insurance company.

Best case scenario (1)

PietjeJantje (917584) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913389)

In the best case scenario, their computer systems are redundant. There are facilities one can hire as a bank, broker, etc. to get you up and running in no time after disaster like fire, earthquake etc. strikes. The work done in this facility is qualified as the best of the world, made possible by tax payers money. Normally I'd expect them to have obtained a service like this, but this is very costly stuff... For a bank it's easy maths, each hour they are down cost zillions and after a few days you're out, end of story. They get this service because it's mission-critical. For scientists, it might have been more appealing to throw it all away on cool experiments, which might cause a fire, but at this level?

Re:Worst case scenario more like couple of decades (3, Interesting)

sjmac (7414) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913410)

The building is/was part of Electronics and Computer Science (http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/ [soton.ac.uk] , but the servers are down at the moment). It was a postgrad/research building (no undergrads). I did my PhD research there 7 years ago.

I know there is computer science research being done in the building, which is shaped like a 'U'. From what I saw on the news, the fire started in (and destroyed) the other side of the building (the opposite leg of the 'U') where the the clean rooms and laboratories are. It seems to have burned the side of the facing leg of the U off too.

I was working in the Optoelectronics Research Center (http://www.orc.soton.ac.uk/ [soton.ac.uk] ) when I was there. The sort of research they do isn't going to be restored from backup tapes. Some past results may be, but even without fires I often heard stories about people losing years of work when their hard disk crashed or laptop was stolen.

Re:Worst case scenario more like couple of decades (1)

bugmonkey (865078) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913478)

As an example one of the Informatics [ed.ac.uk] [www.inf.ed.ac.uk] buildings at the University of Edinburgh burned down [wikipedia.org] [wikipedia.org] in December 2002. The building to replace the one lost is only just starting construction now. This was hurried up a little as there were already plans for a new building which were fast tracked after the fire. Added problems were that the original site has world heritage status, building work there hasn't even finished the planning stage.

Luckly all the data was backed up off site, but the AI library was totally lost. The University of Edinburgh is still feeling the consequences and I suspect Southampton will be years later as well.

Re:I hope they're backing up data! (1)

mokeyboy (585139) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912886)

It looks like the website is still around
http://www.orc.soton.ac.uk/ [soton.ac.uk]

Re:I hope they're backing up data! (2, Insightful)

wronskyMan (676763) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912962)

Even with the data backed up, the major loss will be their equipment [soton.ac.uk] - this is not a computer lab, rather it is a hardware fabrication lab with likely millions of dollars worth of semiconductor and optical processing equipment, clean rooms, etc. - research samples taking months to grow may have been lost as well.

Re:I hope they're backing up data! (1)

TCM (130219) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913354)

And such a thing can burn down in one go?

PWNED (-1, Offtopic)

Danimoth (852665) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912747)

WOMG PWNED

This could only be (2, Funny)

bladesjester (774793) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912750)

This sounds like the work of a disgruntled CS student turned MBA. After all, how better to learn about screwing your former classmates than burning down their building (unless you made sure they were inside it at the time) :P

Re:This could only be (1, Funny)

hoka (880785) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912834)

Or maybe its the MPAA/RIAA working hard to prevent future high speed Internet development?

Re:This could only be (2, Funny)

theodicey (662941) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913212)

It is the UK after all Someone talked too loudly in the pub about all the Cat5 in the building and caught the attention of animal rights terrorists?

Re:This could only be (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13913391)

and I'm sure no one thought to blame that dimwit searching for his stapler...

hmm (0, Redundant)

sarathmenon (751376) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912756)

Time to take about backups.

Re:hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13913459)

Right after your spelling lesson.

Liquid nitrogen tanks? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13912758)

Quote article:
He said: "There are a lot of liquid nitrogen tanks outside the building and they use liquid nitrogen heavily there.

Since when is liquid nitrogen flamable?

Re:Liquid nitrogen tanks? (1)

wo1verin3 (473094) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912815)

It's not... but they're probably in such a panic :0

* Extinguishing Media: Material is non-flammable. Nitrogen neither burns nor supports combustion. Use extinguishing media appropriate for surrounding fire.

Re:Liquid nitrogen tanks? (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912819)

Liquid nitrogen ---(heat)---> gaseous nitrogen

gaseous nitrogen + very small, insufficently strong container = BOOM!!

Re:Liquid nitrogen tanks? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913001)

gaseous nitrogen + very small, insufficently strong container = BOOM!!

Its a shame because in the right container LN would make a fantastic fire retardent.

Re:Liquid nitrogen tanks? (1)

bani (467531) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912877)

Since you're a freaking moron.

LN2 + heat = expansion. LN2 + sealed tank + heat = boom.

Re:Liquid nitrogen tanks? (1)

sjmac (7414) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913386)

Where in the quote or TFA does it say that liquid nitrogen is flamable?

Read the side of one of your non-flammable aerosol cans -- anything about not throwing it in a fire written there? Above 77 Kelvin (minus 196 centigrade) it wants to be a gas again. In a fire it might well be able to pop the can it's stored in.

That's not to say there weren't more explosive materials in the building. That building is used for research in microelectronics fabrication and optical fibre and laser research.

liquid nitrogen (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13912761)

Francis Chee, a postgraduate student at the university, was at the scene of the fire. He said: "There are a lot of liquid nitrogen tanks outside the building and they use liquid nitrogen heavily there. I did hear several explosions sounding like gas canisters going off."

Obviously not a chem grad student... nitrogen would have helped put out the fire. Still, the exploding canisters act like rockets and prevent fire-fighters from getting close.

Re:liquid nitrogen (2, Informative)

Nasarius (593729) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913312)

Obviously not a chem grad student... nitrogen would have helped put out the fire. Still, the exploding canisters act like rockets and prevent fire-fighters from getting close.

As a chem student, damaging/heating a canister of compressed nitrogen can cause a fairly violent explosion. It's not combustion; it's just rapid expansion.

That is certainly unfortunate. (5, Insightful)

Sheetrock (152993) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912770)

The only two things that I can think of that might be of some consolation are that because this dealt with technology much of the research should be in electronic form and backed up and that many times you'll discover a more efficient way of doing things when you go back and design the same thing a second time (although one normally does not have the luxury/misfortune to do so).

Backups? (5, Interesting)

(negative video) (792072) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912771)

What about the building's fire sprinkler system? Why did it fail? Or why didn't it have one?

Re:Backups? (2, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912790)

Why, it was state-of-the-art; their sprinkler system was all virtual. Unfortunately the fire wasn't.

Re:Backups? (5, Funny)

NoGuffCheck (746638) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912798)

No need to worry, luckly the sprinkler system was off site so it survived the fire unharmed... phew! y,know, its close scares like this that make you really appreciate your plumbing.

Re:Backups? (1)

dirtsurfer (595452) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912814)

First line of TFA:
"Gas canisters exploded inside the Mountbatten building on Salisbury Road, Highfield, which was engulfed by a 100ft plume of smoke on Sunday morning."

Yeah, I wonder why the sprinkler system didn't take care of that.

Sprinklers wouldn't have (5, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912926)

But halon gas fire suppression systems should have - at least, to the degree of it not getting totally out of control. Without oxygen, fires don't generally do a whole lot - halon largely works by displacing all of the oxygen, leaving the fire nothing to work with.


There's also the question of cannisters exploding... Cannisters generally don't do this - they tend to be rather boring, not even speaking much, unless there's something already happening. Cannisters will react to heat - but, like I said, a halon system should have dealt with heat sources long before they became a threat. Cannisters with explosive gasses CAN explode if the valve is leaky and there is a static discharge. But anyone leaving highly explosive substances around massive sources of static, or indeed, in containers that are faulty - well, they should expect something like this. You should generally store cannisters and gas cylinders in well-ventillated but secure locations containing no combustible materials or materials likely to pick up a static charge.


In practice, you can't go around stowing every single piece of equiptment in absolutely ideal conditions. In consequence, accidents like this are going to happen. Because they are going to happen, the important thing is to keep the impact to a minimum. A lot of effort over the years has gone, not only in building fire suppressing systems, but also in figuring out how to build structures that will contain a fire. The slower a fire can spread, the more likely it is to exhaust fuel and/or oxygen before it can find more.


Now, explosions get more problematic. Once you get explosions, there's not a whole lot even the best design can do, because you have to assume that there will be a sizable area affected. Aside from minimizing risk (through correct handling and operating procedurea) and trapping precursors (such as nearby fires, static, etc), there's not much that can be done. If you want to have a building survive explosions, you've got to design it very differently - lots of honeycombed structures that can absorb the high energies involved, for example. On the whole, though, you wouldn't design a fibre optics centre that way. Fibre isn't known for exploding. Fireworks factories SHOULD be built that way, and a lot of people killed in such explosions might well be alive if such buildings WERE built correctly for the conditions, but that's a whole different ball-game.

Re:Sprinklers wouldn't have (1)

dancallaghan (890674) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913183)

But halon gas fire suppression systems should have

I thought halon fire supression systems went out of fashion in the nineties (you know, the whole people-getting-trapped-inside-and-suffocating thing ...) Reminds me of the Terminator movies actually ...

Re:Sprinklers wouldn't have (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913274)

So do you suspect an act of arson? Being that this happend at a Uni, there are lots of potential motives...

Halon doesn't work by displacing oxygen (2, Interesting)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913400)

If it did, you could use something a lot cheaper like CO2. 1301 halts fires when it's at only 3 to 7% concentration, barely diluting the oxygen let alone displacing it.

What happens is much more interesting and I've never found a good reference with a complete explanation. Under heat, loose halogen atoms break off the halon molecules and react with short-lived intermediate molecules from the combustion process, taking them out of circulation and breaking the reaction chain.

I looked into this once trying to figure out if the chemistry is related to that behind ozone depletion, but never found out.

Re:Backups? (2, Insightful)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912816)

I wonder if they used gas, sprinklers, both, or neither? The gases they use to put out fires near computers tend to leave the computers unharmed, but the same can't be said for people...the sprinklers of course do the opposite. Then again, the article mentions that gas canisters exploded, so maybe they could have taken out a lot of the fire protection mechanisms with them...

Re:Backups? (1)

mr_zorg (259994) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912867)

What about the building's fire sprinkler system? Why did it fail? Or why didn't it have one?

I'm guessing you're an American. Having spent many years in Europe, I know that there are many buildings overseas that are older than our entire country. And, no, most of them have not been retrofitted to modern building codes. That's just the way it is. Though, as other have speculated, a fire as devistating as this one it may not have helped anyway.

Re:Backups? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13912911)

Um.. the "world's most advanced" CS lab certianly wouldn't be housed in a victorian chapel would it?

Re:Backups? (1)

Mostly a lurker (634878) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912941)

If it had been in Cambridge University, it might well have been a medieval building. At Southampton, it was probably no more than 50 years old. What goes on inside a building is not usually greatly affected by its external shell, except for the likely need for upgraded utilities.

Universities in England have been seriously strapped for cash for over 20 years. They certainly would need to use existing buildings, and I would have been surprised to learn they had managed to afford modern fire suppression systems.

Re:Backups? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13912956)

we're talking about CS research, not literature or law studies.. besides, they're not going to tell the folks who have been doing law or whatever for over a 100 years to suddenly to scram.. tradition is tied to buildings.

I would expect a university, especially one this prestigious, to put its high tech research activities into modern state of the art facilities

Re:Backups? (1)

Mostly a lurker (634878) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913319)

I know it can be very difficult for outsiders to understand how starved for cash English universities have been for over 20 years. My brother-in-law, as it happens, was on the Civil Engineering faculty at Southampton University through the 1980s and most of the 1990s, so I know the struggle there was for cash.

I think the building in question is this one here [southampton.ac.uk] , based on the BBC press report. Note that this is a virtual reality view, not a static image so you can pan the view and pan in and out. While hard to tell, I would guess this is an adapted 1970s era building.

Re:Backups? (1)

(negative video) (792072) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912944)

It isn't a building code or age issue. Retrofitting sprinklers pays for itself rapidly in reduced insurance premiums, particularly with a building full of ultra-expensive equipment (wafer steppers and related fab equipment) and dangerous gas canisters (arsine, elemental fluorine).

And the point of sprinklers is to prevent a fire from becoming devastating in the first place, by limiting the wide-area temperature to the boiling point of water. One notable case where they don't work is with metals like magnesium and aluminum, for which water is an oxidizer.

Hmmm... Google's cache of http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/admissions/pg/history.p hp [soton.ac.uk] (the original page being gone forever) says the Mountbatten building was finished in 1991.

World's Most Advanced CS Research Center? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13912772)

(one of) the world's most advanced cs research center does not have most advanced fire containment/prevention system? wtf?

Re:World's Most Advanced CS Research Center? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13913019)

I'm thinking the world's most advanced cs research center has only the world's most advanced cs. Not necessarily the most advanced computers, not the most advanced auto-leveling ergonomically correct desks, not the most dna-comparing+voiceprint+digestive cavity analysis alarm system, and not the most advanced fire system.

Fire (4, Interesting)

ModernGeek (601932) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912777)

It's amazing how much fire can destroy and how fast. Even with advanced fire suppression systems, fire departments, etc. Without any of these, fire can be even more devastating. I was talking with a guy who said they don't have a fire department in his area, and that when there is a remote fire department responding, it's too little to late. Fires in his area take out acres and acres of land and homes. It's impossible to get insurance in the area. I joined my local volunteer fire department about a year and a half ago, and I never realized until then just how frequent fires are, and how easily they can get out of control. The biggest thing is to prepare for the worst and pray for the best.

best quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13912781)

He said: "There are a lot of liquid nitrogen tanks outside the building and they use liquid nitrogen heavily there.


Makes sense.

Mar_3 (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13912786)

come Here but now unless you can work our cause. Gay look at the lubrication. You of OpenBSD versus prima doonas to very sick and its get tough. I hope

Are NOC fire common? Or is there just a rash... (2, Interesting)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912797)

...I'm specifically thinking about the one that took out the Debian servers last year. (Too tired to find a link...sorry.)

Re:Are NOC fire common? Or is there just a rash... (1)

novakreo (598689) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912859)

...I'm specifically thinking about the one that took out the Debian servers last year. (Too tired to find a link...sorry.)

If you're talking about this [slashdot.org] , it was much more than a year ago (November 2002). So no, I don't think it's as common as you suggest.

Grammar error (-1, Troll)

ModernGeek (601932) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912804)

The BBC has:
Resident Sarah May, who lives near the campus, said her family was woken up by the a loud bang.

It should read:
Resident Sarah May, who lives near the campus, said her family was woken up by a loud bang.

I thought the British were supposed to know English best.

Re:Grammar error (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13912922)

How the fuck is that off topic? It's about the article that the summary is talking about! Dumbasses.

Mhmm and?? (-1)

deglr6328 (150198) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912813)

"Francis Chee, a postgraduate student at the university, was at the scene of the fire.
He said: "There are a lot of liquid nitrogen tanks outside the building and they use liquid nitrogen heavily there.
"I did hear several explosions sounding like gas canisters going off.""


Hmm, not knowing that liquid nitrogen is completely non-flamable and ~200 degrees below zero...? Priceless. Way to go BBC, bang on science reporting as usual.

Re:Mhmm and?? (2, Insightful)

seifried (12921) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912831)

When cold stuff gets hot it expands! Expansion in an enclosed space leads to explosions when the container eventually fails.

Re:Mhmm and?? (0)

deglr6328 (150198) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912871)

yeah it can explode. Its time people understood that explode [google.com] does not necessarily = explode [google.com] (thank heavens for moronic kids who produce endlessly amusing videos like these, what would we do without them?).

Re:Mhmm and?? (3, Insightful)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912840)

Hmm, not knowing that liquid nitrogen becomes gaseous nitrogen when you apply heat, and that very high pressure makes containers explode...? And after you've mocked someone else...? Even more priceless!

Re:Mhmm and?? (1)

cyberbrian (15778) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912847)

An explosion does not require a fire. When heated, a liquid nitrogen tank will explode when the pressure from the expanding nitrogen exceeds the pressure rating of the tank.

B.

It's the pressure. (1)

shanen (462549) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912858)

My scientific prediction is that /. moderation will probably mod that insightful, though it obviously isn't.

Having worked with liquid nitrogen in the past, I don't really like the thought of what would happen if the liquid was quickly heated up. The tanks are vented, but I really doubt the vents would be able to deal with that. Sure, the gas itself is not going to burn and might even snuff out a few neighboring fires (though the oxygen will come back fairly quickly and the fires might revive), but it's the large and very jagged flying pieces of metal that could, shall we say, greatly inconvenience anyone in the vicinity.

It's certainly not an experiment I'd want to participate in.

Re:It's the pressure. (0, Flamebait)

deglr6328 (150198) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913020)

I guess that's what I get for overestimating the level of the room. The reason I did not spell things out explicitly is because I figured the common fact that gas=more volume than liquid and hence boiling liquid in container = boom is so blindingly obvious that it didn't need even mentioning. My objection to the BBC article that I was making a joke about lies in the fact that they seem to suggest the fire was CAUSED by an LN2 tank explosion, which is extraordinarily unlikely for obvious reasons.

Re:It's the pressure. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13913098)

it is not suggested anywhere in the article that the fire was caused by an LN2 tank explosion.

Re:It's the pressure. (1)

shanen (462549) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913265)

Well, actually, now that you mention it... A stuck relief valve after enough time might well be the cause of an explosion, and even with all the nitrogen suddenly in the room, now you have me wondering if that could have been the cause of the mess.

However, I have to doubt it. I'm pretty sure that the large tanks would have multiple relief valves and probably even pressure monitors with alarms. So does anyone want to start a pool on the cause? The angry intern was the only suggestion I saw so far...

Re:Mhmm and?? (1)

oostevo (736441) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912864)

Realize as you read this that I am a math student, not an engineer, physicist, or chemist, so this may be as useless a reply as the one the postgrad gave, but here goes:

So a gas is compressed at a certain temperature and pressure in a container. The pressure goes up when the temperature rises (you know ... PV=nRT and all that good stuff). So the container will have tolerances built in to account for changes in temperature.

My guess is those tolerances didn't account for the canisters being subjected to a 100 foot tall plume of flame and smoke. Hence the canisters went kaboom.

Re:Mhmm and?? (1)

alienw (585907) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912997)

PV=nRT is an extremely rough approximation for gases, but it simply does not apply to _liquid_ nitrogen. When you heat up liquid nitrogen, it boils and expands a LOT. No container would be able to contain such pressures.

Re:Mhmm and?? (1)

oostevo (736441) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913075)

You know, I thought of that as soon as I hit the submit button. Right. Thanks for the correction.

Re:Mhmm and?? (1)

bani (467531) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912870)

NL2 expands when heated. The tanks have pressure release valves but I doubt they would be able to vent enough to prevent a rupture in a fire. Hence, exploding canisters.

You smugly criticize the BBC as being "scientifically ignorant", yet you expose your own bottomless pit of ignorance yourself for the whole world to see. Oh the irony...

Re:Mhmm and?? (0, Flamebait)

deglr6328 (150198) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912910)

Holy crap people, how many "OMG didn't you like totally know that pressure and temperature are directly related in gasses and that LN2 can like BOIL an' junk!!? Like wow ur so 14m3!".

DUH!! Wow, congrats to you, you remembered something from high school chemistry. Why do I picture you patting yourself on the back right now? The point is that an exploding container of liquid nitrogen will NOT create a fire! Which is what the the BBC article implies.

Re:Mhmm and?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13913049)

Where does the BBC article imply that the nitrogen caused the fire? The only sentence on the cause of the fire was, "Police forensics officers and fire investigators have started to look for the cause of the fire which, at this stage, is not thought to be suspicious." The exploding gas cannisters are only mentioned for drawing the attention of locals -- not as the cause of the fire. Perhaps you're the one who shouldn't be patting your back.

Re:Mhmm and?? (1)

bani (467531) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913083)

nowhere in the article does it imply the explosions or LN2 caused the fire. rather it implies the explosions were a result of the fire.

Re:Mhmm and?? (1)

Epsillon (608775) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913069)

Those bangs were more likely to be CRTs imploding.

Re:Mhmm and?? (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913239)

"Hmm, not knowing that liquid nitrogen is completely non-flamable and ~200 degrees below zero...?"

What happens to one of those tanks when you heat it rapidly?

Re:Mhmm and?? (1)

Impeesa (763920) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913291)

What happens to one of those tanks when you heat it rapidly?

This. [web.unbc.ca] Actually, that was just a pop bottle full. A proper tank full would be much more dramatic.

Who dun it? (5, Funny)

TheDracle (836105) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912827)

First Google buys all unused fiber optics:
http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/08/ 28/2156233&tid=217&tid=230&tid=193 [slashdot.org]

To corner the market.

And now mysterious fires ravage the competition.

Re:Who dun it? (1)

danharan (714822) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912898)

I don't see how this really benefits Google in any tangible way. These people were doing R&D, not competing to buy fiber.

In any case, if it did help Google, anyone with stock or sell options could have done it.

OK people (4, Insightful)

Y-Crate (540566) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912832)

I think that after two examples (the other being the Ardman fire [cnn.com] ) of why you should invest in proper fire suppression equipment in one month's time in one nation should be enough to make people realize that such systems are a worthwhile investment.

Then again, such things are usually put low on the list of priorities whenever possible, because "it won't happen to us".

You can even get the upper hand when explosives are present, you can get systems that will have fire suppressants leaving the discharge head before the explosion is even visible (some systems are guaranteed to have the suppressant flowing in less than 50 milliseconds of onset of the event that triggers the release.)

I suppose it just comes down to a matter of deciding how much you value your operation and assets.

Re:OK people (2, Informative)

igb (28052) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913085)

But fire supression isn't as easy as you make out. In the machine hall I manage I have the usual underfloor, main space and ceiling void vesda early detection, plus automated dumping of extinguishant. However, as Halon has been illegal for new construction in the EU since the early 90s, it's CO2. So there's a motion sensor system to avoid killing people inside.


But the whole idea of machine rooms as dangerous fire sources dates back to valves, three-phase and lots of paper dust. Mine is in the middle of a mixed office/manufacturing complex, and it's far mkore likely that a fire would start outside the room and burn in than vice versa. Once the pressure boundary of the machine room is breached gaseous extinguishant is useless.


I've kept the CO2 system, but our safety people are close to arguing that our chances of killing people by accident are greater than the chances of improved fire safety. Far better to spend money and resource on fire prevention.


The Ardman example (and a few years ago the fire than hit that art warehouse) are also hard, because large, open storage areas are impossible to pressurise and water would be almost as destructive as fire.


In practice, IT operations are less likely to burn and more likely to be backed up than other parts of businesses. Look instead at paper financial records, at test fixtures in factories, at lab areas in development operations, at patch frames (you know where every patch in your 1000-employee building goes, right?)


ian

Re:OK people (3, Informative)

TheGSRGuy (901647) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913112)

Halon systems generally give a certain amount of warning before going off. The server rooms where I work have Halon fire supression systems, and there are placards and lights/buzzers everywhere that tell you "you've got 60 seconds to exit the room once this light turns on." The same warnings are found in fireworks stores, and I would presume factories.

It's not like suddenly the oxygen in the room disappears and everyone asphyxiates. Halons are basically a super-powerful CFC. They destroy ozone (hence removing oxygen from the air, which sucks if you rely on oxygen, like humans).

There are alternatives to halons, as discussed here: http://www.harc.org/harcnews.html [harc.org] .

Re:OK people (1)

mstromb (869949) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913416)

Maybe I am some sort of super human, but I don't breathe ozone (although I do breathe oxygen). In fact, ozone is rather bad for me, being extremely reactive (it oxidizes things - who would have guessed?). Which is good, because it only occupies about 0.0 to 0.07 ppmv of our atmosphere, while good 'ol 02 occupies about 20%. At least according to NASA.

So, a fire suppression system that gets rid of ozone sounds rather useless...

Re:OK people (1)

J. Random Luser (824671) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913104)

Then again, such things are usually put low on the list of priorities whenever possible, because "it won't happen to us".

No, there's often a value judgement made: "How much insurance can we afford for what we have to protect?"
I work in a University environment where sprinklers have deliberately not been used in some areas because of perceived dangers (electric, chemical), and not in some areas because people can be scared out with lights and loud noises, and the building itself would be better rebuilt. Interestingly the areas with greatest sprinkler protection are the libraries. Librarians I have spoken to view this as a mixed blessing, the great bulk of their collections could be easily replaced, rather than salvaging soggy pages...

Re:OK people (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913231)

>Interestingly the areas with greatest sprinkler protection are the libraries.

The risk isn't so much the collection, but the fact that it is an excellent and abundant fuel.

I wonder... (1)

Wisgary (799898) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912856)

...what all these researchers are going to do now that they're out of work? Maybe Google should hire them! They seem to hire all of the geniuses in the world anyway.

Re:I wonder... (2, Funny)

MarkRose (820682) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912924)

...what all these researchers are going to do now that they're out of work?

I bet they're glad to be alive... what if they had been in the building when the explosion happened? An event like that is certainly going to effect the very fiber of their beings.

Remember kids... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13912887)

... a RAID array does not count as an off-site backup!

Firewall (5, Funny)

Kyeetza (927172) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912900)

A massive fire has destroyed a leading computer science research facility.... They should've invested in a better firewall...

Chip Fab (1)

tillemetry (223556) | more than 8 years ago | (#13912904)

Sounds more like it was a chip fab. One of the chemicals that might be used in the wet benches can be pyrophoric (ignite contact with air, with no other ignition source). The gas called silane.

The ducts used to pull silane out of the wet benches are usually heavily fire rated. Silane is used to deposit silicon layers on chips. I know that other wet benches have burned up in the past due to silane as an ignition souce. Generally it is heaviliy cut with Nitrogen (98% Nitrogen, 2% Silane) since the silane is so reactive.

I'm sure we have some people on these groups that know more than I do.

Re:Chip Fab (2, Informative)

hptux06 (879970) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913309)

Yep, the Mountbatten building houses most of the electronic / microchip facilities for southampton. According to my brother (a student there), the fire's taken out the Clean Room [intel.com] , used for chip fab. Seeing how the cost for building clean rooms start in the millions, that's gotta hurt.

Yeah right! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13912976)

Southampton and ALL other European universities are garbage compared to an Ivy League school here in America. Fuck you Eurotrash!

Its the Japanese company from earlier on... (0, Offtopic)

xquark (649804) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913000)

that could supposedly transfer porn at 1TB/sec, felt they needed to get rid of any "potential" competition ala 80s style :D

Arash

ma8`e (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13913005)

University student information (4, Informative)

newandyh-r (724533) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913053)

The information on the University's web site - URL not published because they definitely won't want to be slashdotted today - says:
Fire at Highfield campus A major fire today at the University's Highfield Campus has partially destroyed the Mountbatten Building, in particular the area containing the microfabrication facility. Very fortunately, as far as can be ascertained, no one was injured or is missing as a result of the fire. Apart from some minor smoke damage to adjacent buildings no other University buildings have been affected and staff and students are asked to return to work as normal on Monday morning. Undergraduate teaching at the University is expected to take place as usual on Monday and students should arrive for lectures at the normal time. Staff and postgraduate students who would normally work in the Mountbatten Building and those who work in the Zepler building are asked to attend a meeting at the Turner Sims Concert Hall at 10.30am, for a briefing on the latest situation and to hear about the University's contingency plans. The Mountbatten Building houses research laboratories and offices for the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) and the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS). The University, ECS and the ORC will do all that is possible to support staff and students affected by this serious fire. The emergency services were alerted to the fire when the alarms were activated at 6.30am Sunday, and the fire was under control by mid-afternoon. Based on available information there was nothing in the smoke plume that would pose a significant risk to health beyond that of the normal constituents of any other building fire. The cause of the fire is not yet known. Local people were advised to avoid making unnecessary journeys in the vicinity and to avoid contact with the smoke plume. Those who are vulnerable or had an existing medical condition were asked to take particular care. The University's Secretary and Registrar John Lauwerys commented: 'This is a huge loss to the University and the fire has destroyed one of our key research facilities of international importance, supporting groups in both Electronics and Computer Science and the Optoelectronics Research Centre. 'It is a huge relief that no one has been injured as a result of the fire and our concern now is to ensure that staff and students that normally work in the Mountbatten Building are given every help to re-establish their academic work. 'The University is very appreciative of the professionalism and skill of all the emergency services, who responded so quickly and effectively, preventing the fire spreading to adjacent buildings. 'It is not yet safe to enter the Mountbatten Building, so we do not yet know the extent of the loss in terms of people's research material. It is likely to be a few days before this can be fully established,' he added.
[ooops - I had hoped "blockquote" would keep the formatting intact ... haven't got time to format cleanly]

Formatting (2, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913102)

sometimes slashdot likes to pretend you're formatting in html.
You need to make sure that little drop down menu says "Plain Old Text"
That's the only way /. will leave your paragraph's intact. Otherwise you have to insert markup
Fire at Highfield campus
A major fire today at the University's Highfield Campus has partially destroyed the Mountbatten Building, in particular the area containing the microfabrication facility. Very fortunately, as far as can be ascertained, no one was injured or is missing as a result of the fire.

Apart from some minor smoke damage to adjacent buildings no other University buildings have been affected and staff and students are asked to return to work as normal on Monday morning.

Undergraduate teaching at the University is expected to take place as usual on Monday and students should arrive for lectures at the normal time.

Staff and postgraduate students who would normally work in the Mountbatten Building and those who work in the Zepler building are asked to attend a meeting at the Turner Sims Concert Hall at 10.30am, for a briefing on the latest situation and to hear about the University's contingency plans.

The Mountbatten Building houses research laboratories and offices for the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) and the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS). The University, ECS and the ORC will do all that is possible to support staff and students affected by this serious fire.

The emergency services were alerted to the fire when the alarms were activated at 6.30am Sunday, and the fire was under control by mid-afternoon. Based on available information there was nothing in the smoke plume that would pose a significant risk to health beyond that of the normal constituents of any other building fire. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Local people were advised to avoid making unnecessary journeys in the vicinity and to avoid contact with the smoke plume. Those who are vulnerable or had an existing medical condition were asked to take particular care.

The University's Secretary and Registrar John Lauwerys commented: 'This is a huge loss to the University and the fire has destroyed one of our key research facilities of international importance, supporting groups in both Electronics and Computer Science and the Optoelectronics Research Centre.

'It is a huge relief that no one has been injured as a result of the fire and our concern now is to ensure that staff and students that normally work in the Mountbatten Building are given every help to re-establish their academic work.

'The University is very appreciative of the professionalism and skill of all the emergency services, who responded so quickly and effectively, preventing the fire spreading to adjacent buildings.

'It is not yet safe to enter the Mountbatten Building, so we do not yet know the extent of the loss in terms of people's research material. It is likely to be a few days before this can be fully established,' he added.
Coralized Link To Article [nyud.net]

Irony (1)

sakusha (441986) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913344)

Odd that the Mountbatten Building was destroyed by an explosion and fire, it is a sadly ironic reminder of how Louis Mountbatten was killed by an IRA bomb.

NSA (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13913054)

""Some of the most advanced research work in the country, and indeed the world was carried out in this facility ... We probably will have to start from scratch, and it will take a couple of years to rebuild the facility""

Bet the NSA have an equal facility. Yes the NSA has their own chip facility.

I blame Luke Teacy.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13913062)

He's a friend in postgrad studies at Soton doing CS (well...software agents but stick with me). *AND* he was studying with me in Edinburgh when fire gutted on of the Informatics buildings there. Plus, he's Irish. So. You know....

To lighten the mood.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13913195)

Now that's what I call firewire!

CS dept fine, ES dept not (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13913300)

Just a correction on the news item: the actual CS department was unharmed, and CS students are unlikely to be directly affected at all. According to an interview with the admin Chris Gutteridge on Surge FM (Coral) [nyud.net] (the Uni radio), all students files and documents are safe and were backed up. The internal intranet and internet connectivity is still up, although a couple of servers have been cut off. It is electronics students and researchers who have lost out here.

For those that aren't aware, Soton has a combined electronics and computer science facility. Electronics in Mountbatten, and CS in the attached Zepler building. Only Mountbatten was affected, and Zepler recieved only minor smoke and heat damage. This is remarkable as Mountbatten has been entirely gutted due to the explosions, whereas Zepler appears to be otherwise perfectly fine.

Mountbatten did have a modern sprinkler system, quite why it failed and why the fire escalated will be investigate in the next few days. There are also concerns over the lack of information about chemicals stored there, which prevented fire crews from stopping the fire earlier.

Re:CS dept fine, ES dept not (1)

F1Driver (912890) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913444)

I am not sure if the department servers were in Mountbatten or Zepler, but www.ecs.soton.ac.uk or www.zepler.net are both down and my zepler.net e-mails are not getting forwarded.

The Smell (1)

boot1973 (809692) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913314)

Well i don't know much about fibre optics but i do know that when those places burn they really stink.. And i live about 8 miles away.

Chip Fab (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13913333)

There was indeed a Chip fabrication facility on-site, and numerous other chemicals other than Liquid nitrogen. But the BBC heard the words "Liquid Nitrogen" and went off on one it seems.

Re:Chip Fab (1)

E-beam (927194) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913436)

My company has equipment in that building, so I am speaking from experience but there are a whole host of hazardous, flammable, explosive chemicals, gases and materials which are used in the production of the semiconductor devices. Its not just the huge N2 and Argon Containiners outside, maybe 20+ ft tall but there are also some nasties used. There could be any number of causes for the actual explosions, but the start of the fire could be tracked as the facilities sensors should send data to fire brigade to indicate the zone. Unfortunatley my first thought for possible cause of starting the fire was kids, they have had a lot of problems with vandalism, but thats my opinion. Most people will not know much about the facility but its capabilities and importance to sub-micron and nano reasearch are a key element to UK research. Also a lot of lost data will be in the form of the actual substrates used in the research that could be any any stage of its production cycle.

Tightly-packed buildings (2, Interesting)

djce (927193) | more than 8 years ago | (#13913383)

I'm an alumnus of Southampton Uni - I graduated 10 years ago and revisit the city (and sometimes the campus) once or twice a year. I had a few lectures in that building, but mostly I was in Maths on the other side of the campus.

The building in question is in a very tightly-packed part of the campus, and if memory serves is probably only about 200yds from the neighbouring houses (Hartley Road etc). So it sounds like it could have easily been a lot worse.

On the plus side, the campus is on top of the edge of the river valley, so the whole of the nearby Itchen valley would have been treated to an early fireworks display :-/ /me keeps an eye out for photoblogs

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