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Building Better Science

January 7, 2021
exterior of a large building
A rendering of the new Science Initiative Building, scheduled to open fall 2021. Renderings by GSG Architecture (Casper) and Perkins+Will (Seattle).

The new Science Initiative Building will house state-of-the-art equipment to improve science across the state.

 

By Micaela Myers

 

Studying things too small to see with the naked eye—such as fundamental interactions among atoms, molecules and cells that underlie next-generation technology—requires specialized equipment. The University of Wyoming’s state-of-the-art new Science Initiative Building, scheduled to open fall 2021 at the corner of Ninth and Lewis streets, will house two new research centers—the Center for Advanced Scientific Instrumentation (CASI) and the Center for Integrative Biological Research (CIBR). These will form an innovation nexus to stimulate external funding and research productivity and to train future science scholars, teachers and researchers.

Designed to be interdisciplinary, the centers bring together the science disciplines for collaborative research activities that will transform the way UW investigates and teaches science.

 

The Center for Advanced Scientific Instrumentation

CASI will co-locate UW’s elite imaging scientists, their research teams and unique instrumentation in a staffed laboratory, allowing them to achieve unprecedented insights spanning the levels of individual biomolecules all the way up to that of whole organisms. Aiming to rank among the world’s best, CASI can attract faculty and students from across the globe as it spotlights Wyoming’s commitment to the sciences that serve state and national needs.

“In order to make science successful on this campus, we need cutting-edge equipment,” says physics and astronomy Professor Chip Kobulnicky. “That equipment has to be supported by trained staff—maintained and effective in training students. One of the pillars of the Science Initiative is to prepare students for next-generation jobs in science and technology—things that will make Wyoming and our students competitive in many different industries.”

A shared center not only fosters collaboration but also saves money by reducing redundancies. The team toured centers at top universities and also heard proposals from across the sciences.

One example of the equipment that will be housed in CASI is the micro-CT scanner—a type of X-ray machine that can make 3D images of hard- and soft-tissue samples, artifacts and organisms, letting scientists investigate them non-destructively.

“The micro-CT scanner cuts across so many different research fields, it’s amazing,” Kobulnicky says.

Another piece of equipment that would be shared by many different departments and researchers is the focused ion beam with scanning electron microscope that lets scientists image atomic-scale structure and to mill and manufacture nano structures. Life sciences, agriculture, biology, earth sciences, engineering and other sciences would benefit.

“It’s also of interest in energy research because of its ability to slice through samples that are potential materials for batteries and solar cells,” Kobulnicky says. “It can create images of rock and mineral deposits and things that would be used in mining reclamation and coal ash. It’s a very powerful microscope. It doesn’t just image; it can peel away materials layer by layer and study them in great detail.”

 

many people in a large room
An example of a research lab in the new Science Initiative Building. Renderings by GSG Architecture (Casper) and Perkins+Will (Seattle).

Meanwhile, a high-throughput plant phenotyping system could make fast automated measurements of plants in different wavelengths of light that help scientists understand how different traits make them resistant or susceptible to diseases, drought or stress to help growers understand which will be most suitable for planting.

Other equipment on the priority list includes a variety of imaging equipment, specialty microscopes and spectrometers. While a few pieces of equipment already exist on campus and will be relocated to the center, most still need to be purchased through partnerships or fundraising. Once CASI is equipped and staffed, Wyoming community colleges, other front range universities and industry could all partner with UW to use the resource.

Some of the equipment is highly sensitive to vibration and requires special infrastructure.

“The bulk of the instruments that are sensitive to vibrations will be in the basement or the lowest floor of the building,” says molecular biology Associate Professor Jay Gatlin. “We have a suite for the electron microscopes, which are incredibly sensitive to vibration, so you have to pour a special foundation that will isolate it from the rest of the building.”

The building has been designed to transmit the large amount of digital data the instrumentation will produce. The third floor will house a CASI showcase where some instrumentation will be viewable via glass windows and others can be viewed on digital monitors to allow the public a look into the cutting-edge research.

 

The Center for Integrative Biological Research

Also housed in the new building, CIBR brings together UW’s world-recognized biologists into a collaborative space to foster innovation to address some of Wyoming’s most pressing environmental and health-related challenges. Organized around high-tech plant growth and laboratory animal research facilities, CIBR is specially designed for studies using model and transgenic organisms.

“The roof will house state-of-the-art greenhouses where scientists can control every variable such as temperature, light and moisture for controlled experiments,” says botany Senior Lecturer and Science Initiative Director Mark Lyford.

 

Science Initiative

“The Science Initiative is not just a building—it’s a series of programs,” Kobulnicky says.

These include the Wyoming Research Scholars Program, which provides funding for students to pair with faculty for undergraduate research, and the Learning Actively Mentoring Program, a mentoring and professional development program to promote active learning.

To expand undergraduate research, the Science Initiative is creating a course that will allow more students access.

“To help facilitate that, we’ve developed a student, collaborative, outreach learning laboratory that would provide instrumentation for the students in these courses,” Lyford says, adding that the team is working to fund this laboratory in the new building.

“Another signature piece of the building is the active-learning classrooms,” he says. “We will probably have the largest, most sophisticated active-learning classroom in the nation in this building with 200-plus seats.”

Active learning creates better outcomes for students, including higher attendance and better pass rates.

Kobulnicky says, “To all of us, the Science Initiative is about student success, and the active-learning classrooms and new teaching strategies envisioned across the science curriculum are a big part of that.”

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