UCLA EH&S Pilot ChemTag Program

Posted on

UCLA Environment, Health, and Safety spearheads a pilot chemical inventory project, using radio-frequency identification technology to provide free chemical inventorying services for laboratories.

UCLA Environment, Health, & Safety (EH&S) aims to innovate new methods that assist day-to-day activities of research faculty and students. With this goal in mind, UCLA EH&S has upgraded their ChemTag program to introduce radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology for improved chemical inventory management. The ChemTag program will provide free services to label and inventory chemicals with RFID in laboratories across the UCLA Chemistry and Biochemistry Department.

Radio-frequency labeling makes inventory reconciliation easier and more efficient, reducing the compliance burden on researchers during annual EH&S inspections. (Photos by Allison Hui)

RFID technology works by using an RFID reader to radiate electromagnetic energy. RFID sticker tags on each chemical container pick up these signals. The tags are passive and do not require a power source. Rather, they convert the radiated energy into radio waves that emit at a unique frequency from each tag. The RFID reader interprets the radio waves from all tags in a room, enabling the user to identify and inventory labeled chemicals en masse.

Previously, UCLA and other UC campuses used QR barcodes to reconcile chemicals in laboratories with their inventory records. However, this requires scanning the code on every chemical container by hand with an optical scanner, an extensive process that takes three to five days per laboratory.

RFID inventorying of chemicals was successful at UC Davis when it was introduced in 2018. (See video below). They found that RFID significantly reduced the time to reconcile all chemicals in a single laboratory to less than three hours. Unlike with QR codes, the chemicals do not need to be physically touched or handled to be reconciled. The reader can simultaneously scan multiple tags from a distance without having to directly point at them. RFID labeling makes inventory reconciliation easier and more efficient, reducing the compliance burden on researchers during annual EH&S inspections.

Watch how quickly chemicals can be inventoried using the ChemTag scanner (Courtesy UC Davis).

Integrating RFID tags in laboratories has other additional benefits to researchers. Proper inventory documentation prevents unknowingly purchasing more chemicals than needed in an effort to reduce costs. It also facilitates sharing chemicals between laboratories through the UC Chemicals software to minimize unnecessary spending.

With RFID, chemicals will be more accessible to laboratory personnel. Exact locations of chemicals are quickly searchable through the UC Chemicals inventory summary, and if any chemicals are lost, a Geiger counter function on the RFID reader can help locate tagged items.

“When it comes to preparing for specific experiments, it can take a lot of time away from our day looking for chemicals,” says Salvador Bernadino, a graduate student researcher whose laboratory, the Harran Research Group, recently made use of ChemTag’s services. “If we can specifically locate where reagents are in a timely manner, it can save a lot of time overall throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout the month, and throughout the year”.

If you would like to incorporate RFID ChemTags in your own laboratory or if you have any further questions, please contact EH&S Chemical Inventory Specialist, Allison Hui, at awhui@ehs.ucla.edu or chemicalinventory@ehs.ucla.edu.

Article by Ethan Pham, UCLA, Physiological Science, B.S., Anthropology Minor | Class of 2023, ekpham@g.ucla.edu