July 28, 2000

New facility designed to unite VU scientific talent

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This is an artist’s rendering of the new Biological Sciences/Medical Research Building III, now under construction.

New facility designed to unite VU scientific talent

Scientific discovery at Vanderbilt took a collaborative step forward recently when ground was broken on the new Biological Sciences/Medical Research III Building.

The landmark project — a 350,000-square-foot facility designed to promote connections between diverse scientific disciplines — is a joint undertaking of the College of Arts and Science and the School of Medicine.

"This building is the culmination of a belief I've had the entire time I've been at Vanderbilt — that there are rich opportunities here for meaningful research collaborations," Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt said at the groundbreaking ceremony. "I am proud to be launching this effort in my final month as Chancellor, and I believe that it is the beginning of a transformation in the way that research and education are carried out."

The building is designed to encourage interaction between diverse research disciplines.

"The building will house communities of scientists with similar interests in contiguous spaces, rather than dividing them along traditional, departmental lines," said James V. Staros, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of Biological Sciences, which will be located in the new building.

Other research areas to be based in the facility include neuroscience, genetics, developmental biology, and structural biology, all selected two years ago as part of a program of trans-institutional research.

"The Biological Sciences/Medical Research III Building represents the physical manifestation of the initiatives for trans-institutional research," Staros said. "We believe it will provide a national model for synergy in research."

An eight-story atrium overlooked by interaction spaces on each floor is expected to foster collaboration between scientists and to encourage interaction between the faculty members, postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students who will populate the building.

"The building we are celebrating today is one that celebrates an interdisciplinary environment for both research and education," said Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research at the Medical Center. "It has been said that it is impossible to distinguish where research leaves off and training begins. This building affirms that truism."

The $95 million project, designed by William Wilson Associated Architects in Boston, will occur in two phases. The first phase includes construction of the new nine-story building that wraps the north and east sides, and extends over the top of the Learned Lab building.

The new building will add 64 research laboratories, four teaching laboratories, research support areas, offices, conference rooms, classrooms, and an 8650 net square-foot greenhouse for research and teaching. The ninth floor, which initially will be shelled space, can be finished later to add an additional 12 research laboratories and support areas.

The project's second phase includes renovation of the existing Learned Laboratory building. The entire project is expected to be completed in March 2003.

Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs, emphasized that the occupants of the new facility will find easy access to the tools appropriate to their sophisticated research.

"We expect to provide those tools here in some of the most advanced core facilities in the world," Jacobson said. "Few scientists in the world will be better equipped; few will have such easy and constant interaction with their peers in other disciplines."

A time capsule to be sealed within a wall of the building was on display during the groundbreaking ceremony. Along with the memorabilia to mark the present — lab instruments, a disposable camera with lab pictures, one of James Staros' trademark bow ties — were scrolls containing the hopes of children attending science camp at Vanderbilt for what scientists will discover, and the aspirations of the scientists who will occupy the building for the future of their own research.

A luncheon preceding the groundbreaking featured presentations that provided a glimpse of the research that will happen in the new building.

Christopher V. E. Wright, D. Phil., professor of Cell Biology, Randy D. Blakely, Ph.D., Allan D. Bass Professor of Pharmacology and director of the Center for Molecular Neuroscience, Walter J. Chazin, Ph.D., Chancellor's Professor of Biochemistry and Physics and director of the Center for Structural Biology, Daniel J. Funk, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biological Sciences, and Katherine Friedman, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biological Sciences, described their research programs and how they will benefit from the interdisciplinary nature of the new facility.