AMHERST, Mass. – University of Massachusetts Amherst officials praised the completion of a two-year, $12.3 million laboratory renovation in the Lederle Graduate Research Center today, saying the project will enhance research in the biological and physical sciences and make the campus competitive nationally.
They celebrated the reopening of 15,000 square feet of lab space that was rebuilt with $7.1 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 and $5.2 million from the university.
Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said he was very impressed that the UMass Amherst campus received NIH funding for the work through an “extremely competitive” grant process. “One factor that helped is the long and fruitful history of collaboration between chemistry and biochemistry on this campus. It speaks volumes for that team effort and for the knowledge base here. It certainly makes our future look bright.”
In brief remarks, Dean Steven Goodwin of the College of Natural Sciences said the “impressive facility” is an example of a more unusual collaboration, as well, between faculty and facilities planners. He saluted computer scientist and former associate executive dean Jim Kurose, who with Joe Balzano, capital project manager for campus facilities planning, shepherded the project through multiple grant application cycles over 10 years before it finally won NIH approval and ARRA funding.
Kurose and Balzano handed out several cut glass stars to key figures who were instrumental in transforming cramped and outdated facilities on three floors into modern, open space that is more conducive to collaborative research involving different science fields.
In addition to new plumbing, wiring, fire protection, air handling systems, offices and laboratory facilities on three floors, the renovations include a new $1 million nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, an X-ray crystallography instrument and an autoclave in the basement. They greatly enhance the ability of UMass Amherst’s biochemists to conduct experiments that explore how cells work at the molecular level.
Molecular biophysicist Lila Gierasch, an expert in protein folding, says the NMR spectrometer with its high atomic resolution is particularly powerful for looking at the molecular structure of large biomolecules. “With it, we can look at conformational changes in big proteins, which was very difficult before. The proteins that do the most interesting things in the cell are often very large and often form complexes. The new instrument allows us to study the structure and functional relationships in these very interesting molecules, which teaches us about how the cell works. In some cases, NMR spectroscopy is the only way to answer the question. So it greatly enhances our ability to do highly competitive, highly significant research.”
Craig Martin, head of the chemistry department, says the new laboratory space will house six research faculty, all members of the NIH-funded Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program, three of whom will move from temporary or shared space. “We’re particularly excited to be giving our young researchers the space they deserve. They’ll get state-of-the-art new labs, built on an open floor plan that encourages interaction between groups.”
He says students will be the primary beneficiaries of the new research laboratories because they work there and get their research experience there. “We require all undergraduate chemistry majors to do research, so they’ll definitely benefit from the new facilities. I’m delighted to see this investment in science at UMass. I think it’s a wonderful development that’s going to net significant benefits over the next generation because new facilities will allow us to attract top-notch researchers.”
Martin adds, “The interactivity of the space will allow us opportunities for new partnerships. Right now science is very interdisciplinary, so if a space or a building can promote interaction between groups that’s a very important thing.” The researchers are hoping to begin phased moved-in in January.
The NIH funds are from grant #1C06RR020603.
At left, former dean Leon Osterweil, with UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, former executive associate dean James Kurose, capital project manager Joe Balzano and Dean Steve Goodwin of the College of Natural Sciences, at right, cut a ribbon to re-open a renovated laboratory in the Lederle Graduate Research Center.
Photo credit: UMass Amherst