First, six months of planning. Then, over the summer, came the actual moving of laboratory equipment, chemicals, papers, and all the rest. Finally, faculty, students, and staff from four separate science buildings are now under one roof in a gorgeous new facility beside Stadium Way.
“Our unit is large, with over 150 students, faculty and staff,” says John Nilson, director of the School of Molecular Biosciences. Previously, the school was fragmented, with bits of space in Fulmer Hall, Abelson (old Science), Eastlick, and Heald. “Moving from four buildings to one has already allowed unprecedented social and intellectual interactions that form the root of creative thinking and action in molecular biosciences.”
The four-story Biotechnology/Life Sciences (BLS) building, across from Martin Stadium, is impressive in its abundant glass, its balconies, its grace. The $73 million building houses both the School of Molecular Biosciences and the headquarters of the Center for Reproductive Biology.
But it’s the labs, not the offices, that make the BLS special. The labs run nearly the length of the building in one continuous room on each floor. The long, northern sides of the labs are dominated by tall windows, drenching the space in diffuse light. As designed, the acoustics of the lab are superb. Students, staff, and the faculty members working at their lab benches can easily think, talk to each other quietly, or turn and see others down the room, all without feeling they are in a warehouse.
Just as the building itself brought people from various parts of campus together, the design of the long labs ensures they will see each other and interact.
“It’s great,” says doctoral student Elizabeth Snyder, whose work centers on reproductive (germ) cells that can become sperm. “I can see other students, post docs, or office staff right in the building, and see my advisor—Dean of Sciences Mike Griswold—all with this great ‘One Stop Shopping’ approach. It’s an open-ended discussion all around, and very productive.”
The open architecture of the labs promotes interdisciplinary science—while still allowing the rigor of the individual disciplines to remain strong.
“On the national level, you often hear that there’s a great deal of interdisciplinary work that needs to be done,” says Nilson. “And that’s true. But good interdisciplinary work is made possible—and it really only becomes excellent science—when strong disciplinary work is maintained, as well. That’s what we have here in SMB.”
Emphases in the School of Molecular Biosciences include infectious disease, reproductive biology, genomic biology, and chromosome abnormalities coupled with DNA repair specialties.
SMB has 29 faculty members who concentrate on research and graduate education, and 12 others who concentrate on teaching, primarily at the lower-division undergraduate level. More than 50 doctoral students, as well as a number of undergraduates and post-docs, are in the labs. The SMB is one of the largest units in the College of Sciences. In the last fiscal year, its researchers spent almost $8 million from grants, making it one of the single largest federally funded units on campus.
The Center of Reproductive Biology, a collaborative effort between researchers and labs at WSU and the University of Idaho, is led by SMB Professor Terry Hassold, whose research relates to chromosomal abnormalities in humans—and why they are so common.
After years of studying the fundamental science behind the issue, Hassold and his lab are contributing to the understanding of how on the molecular level maternal germ cell abnormalities can lead to a decrease in human fertility and an increase in potential mental retardation.
“A lot of the molecular science is coming together now, and I’m hopeful that in the next five to 10 years there will be major advancements, including those that have practical applications,” Hassold said.
The BLS building is part of a new research core on campus that will ultimately bring together many of WSU’s technical labs, particularly those related to the life sciences. The neighboring Orville A. Vogel plant science research building due south on Stadium Way was the first to be built in 2005, and BLS is the second. Additional buildings dedicated to research and education in the agricultural sciences and animal health are next on the list of WSU’s priorities for this part of campus, with the ultimate leveling of Johnson Hall (built in 1961) on the agenda to make room for the final buildings.