Scientists Move to Integrated Sciences Complex, Research Begins

Anna Pinkert | January 16, 2015
Linda Huang places a microscope in her new lab.

Linda Huang places a microscope in her new lab.
Image by: Christian Arthur

Biology professor and graduate program director Linda Huang only moved into the new Integrated Sciences Complex last week, but she already has a favorite spot in the building. On the fourth floor, there’s a small graduate student lounge that juts out into space, giving the illusion that the desk and tables are floating over the roadway below.

“You’ve got the Boston skyline, you’ve got the harbor,” Huang said, marveling at the view. “Does it get any more gorgeous than this?”

The whole of the ISC is designed with spaces like these in mind—spaces that students and faculty can use to connect, collaborate, and reflect. In the first week of the new year, professors and graduate students began painstakingly moving their labs into the ISC. Huang says that any lost or broken pieces of equipment could stop her research in its tracks. She compares the move to an extreme version of packing up grandma’s china plates.

Huang is one of three biologists sharing an enormous open laboratory space on the fourth floor. Alexey Veraksa and Katherine Gibson are biologists whose research overlaps with Huang’s in interesting ways. For example, Huang studies the cellular morphology of budding yeast. Veraksa studies how signals are sent inside of cells in flies. Huang and Veraksa have kept the door open between their labs in McCormack Hall for the last 10 years, and have seen firsthand how students benefit when they interact with their peers from other biology labs.

Linda Huang and Alexey Veraksa examine equipment in the ISC

“There’s a lot of sharing and collaboration between my lab and the Veraksa lab,” Huang said. “Not only do they learn from Alexey and me, but they learn from each other. That’s only going to increase with the other people who are here.”

The energy inside the ISC is infectious. Faculty and graduate students check floor plans, rearrange furniture, and fret over their most precious equipment making the 1,500-foot journey from old laboratories to the new. It’s a little like the first day of school. Professors dart around the building, barely suppressing wide grins as they pass their new neighbors and colleagues.

“On Friday, Alexey and I were both here early. He said ‘I felt like a little kid getting new toys.’ I was here at 7:30 in the morning, not because anyone made us come in, but because we wanted to move into our new offices!”

PhD student Jamie Dombach sets up her lab space

Two floors down, Bill Robinson, a professor in the School for the Environment, is working with senior Felicia Woods to set up experiments in his new lab. Robinson studies bivalves (like mussels and oysters) that he collects from New England coastal waters. Some of his samples come from Columbia Point, which he can see from his desk in his ISC office.

This is the first time I can see the ocean,” he said. “I can see what I’m working on!”

Robinson is also planning a collaborative research project with his ISC neighbor and fellow environmental scientist Helen Poynton. They plan to examine the synthetic estrogen found in birth control and its impact on marine mussels. But to Robinson, the benefits of the open, glass-walled labs go beyond his own department.

“In the last few days I’ve seen faculty in the biology department and in the physics department where I wouldn’t see them normally or I’d only see them at meetings,” he said. “I think that proximity is going to work really well.”

Robinson believes that the new spaces will also be conducive to more undergraduate and graduate research. Woods, a senior who works in Robinson’s lab, will be conducting her honors thesis research with Robinson next semester.

Felicia Woods and Bill Robinson in the ISC

“The biggest change is being revitalized. This is something that I’ve been looking forward to for the last five years,” Robinson said. “I think that’s true for everyone I run into. . . it really has revitalized and re-energized a lot of people in really good ways, and I think that’s going to continue.”

Tags: biology , building , cells , collaboration , construction , csm , environment , graduate , isc , labs

Comment on this story

Comments (0)