Center comes to life

Director says Life Sciences Center hopes to attract world-class scientists.
Thursday, June 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:15 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

If there’s no place like home, then the new Life Science Center comes pretty close.

At least that’s the idea that officials with the new building kept getting across during a tour Wednesday of the center. The center is intended to bring several research disciplines under one roof to encourage collaboration in a comfortable environment.

The $60 million, 124,000-square foot building will provide a centralized, flexible space that will allow teams to work together as they research the genetic relationships between humans, animals, plants and organisms to improve food, health and the environment.

After two and a half years of planning and development, contractors have only four more weeks of construction and inspection left to complete at the state-of-the-art center.

About 20 MU faculty members and their teams of five to 15 technicians, undergraduate researchers and post-doctoral students will move into the center at the end of July.

Michael Roberts, director of the Life Sciences Center, expects to hire about 20 additional faculty members outside of the University of Missouri system. Roberts said he hopes the current faculty and new hires will “interact and collaborate” to “expand on new ideas that could enhance research and results.”

The center, at Rollins Road and College Avenue on the MU campus, includes 50 research laboratories, five teaching and computing rooms and a 250-seat auditorium.

Mike Chippendale, senior associate director, said seminars and discussion groups will occur in the center’s common areas. There will be space outside of laboratories and a cafe and reading room for small group interaction.

“The building is designed to encourage cooperation between departments,” said Roberts. “Researchers will work collectively to make the center a hub for life sciences information in the UM system and nationwide.”

Meredith Hay, associate director of the center, said researchers will be attracted to the center because it is a unique building that contains top-of-the-line equipment and houses scientific departments related to plant, animal and human research.

“The synergy will attract the world’s best scientists — this will become a world class institution,” said Hay. “Without question, it has the potential to be one of the nation’s top life sciences research facilities.”

Kareema Smith, an undergraduate studying biology, traveled from the Virgin Islands to participate in an internship that has given her a preview of what researchers will be doing this fall. She assists Elizabeth Rogers, who works for the Life Sciences and Nutritional Sciences departments, with her research on iron levels in plants.

Smith said the research could help people with iron deficiencies such as anemia. By studying how much iron a plant takes out of the soil and how the iron is distributed to various plant tissues, researchers might be able to modify the iron levels in plants to make it easier for humans to intake iron.

“I’ve been exposed to a lot of resources and opportunities at the Life Sciences Center,” said Smith. “This is a really great environment to learn in because everyone works collaboratively. It helps broaden my knowledge and enhance my research.”

Rogers says the research progresses a lot faster as teams network and learn from each other. She is unsure if she will have an office in the center in the fall but said she looks forward to interacting with the other teams.

“It’s a gorgeous building, and it’s really a lot of fun working in it,” Rogers said.

Roberts is in the process of deciding which MU faculty will have offices in the building.

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