Randy Metcalf/The Explorer, Associate scientist Andres Mariscal stands in front of a mural inspired by the minus 20-degree Celsius compound storage vault.

In its new Tucson research and development center, Sanofi-aventis stores the "Tucson Collection" of chemical compounds.

The mixtures, about 900,000 of them, sit in a two-story, 12- by 32-foot compound storage vault, the Nexus Universal Store, that's cooled in an inert atmosphere to -20 degrees Centigrade.

"It's the very first one of its kind, state of the art," said Angie Bastl, senior research investigator for Sanofi-aventis in Tucson, and head of compound logistics. "I like to show it off."

Every vial and tube of compound is bar-coded, retrievable by robotic systems. Bastl and associate scientist Andres Mariscal – she's from Germany, he's from France – fulfill orders from Sanofi-aventis researchers "all over the world," but mostly from Europe and the United States, for samples from the Tucson Collection.

In 2008, "we shipped 76,000 items globally" from the Sanofi-aventis' facility on Hanley Boulevard in Oro Valley. Strict rules apply; compounds must reach requesting sites in the U.S. within three working days, and within seven days internationally. Most of the time, with the help of FedEx and dry ice, the compounds arrive intact and within that time frame. "It's all critical stuff we're shipping," Bastl explained.

A compound is a synthetic test sample. Compounds, both liquid and solid, are made on site by chemists. The Tucson site supplies 3,000 compounds a year to the Sanofi-aventis Global Screening Collection stored in Frankfurt, Germany.

The Universal Store has capacity for about 2 million compound samples. Right now, there are approximately 900,000 on hand, and about than 850,000 "unique compounds," Bastl said.

She's worked at the Tucson site for nine years, and 21 years with the company.

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