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Looking forward to the opening of the Integrated Science Center, phase 3

  • A busy summer:
    A busy summer:  Construction continues on William & Mary’s Integrated Science Center, phase 3. Rounded corners distinguish ISC 3 from the adjacent first two phases of the ISC. The new facility is expected to be on line in time for fall classes.  Photo by Joseph McClain
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Commencement is history. Summer is well under way. And now William & Mary is turning its attention to the opening of the third phase of its Integrated Science Center.

The new 113,000-square-foot ISC 3 is scheduled to be fully on line in fall, and Eric Bradley is having a busy summer. ISC 3-bound faculty that are now located in McGlothlin-Street and Millington Halls will start moving into their new labs and offices the week of Aug. 1. All of the classrooms and laboratories in ISC 3 are expected to be ready for use by the beginning of the fall semester.

The first three phases of the complex will hold part or all of offices and labs of William & Mary’s researchers in the departments of applied science, biology, chemistry and psychology. A fourth phase of the ISC is in planning, and will incorporate the university’s computing and computational elements from information technology as well as the academic departments of computer science and mathematics.

Bradley is the chair of the Department of Biology. Serving in an overlapping role as the emergency and planning coordinator for Arts & Sciences, he has overseen planning and construction of the ISC 3 building. The newest phase continues the themes of versatility and interdisciplinary work that were introduced when ground was broken for the first phase of the ISC in 2006.

 “One of the concepts for the building as an ‘integrated’ science center is that we wanted to get away from departmental silos,” Bradley explained. “The idea behind the ISC is to facilitate exciting research, and to put people together for optimal synergy, as opposed to placing them next to one another just because they happen to be in the same department.”

He added that as academic departments were arranged around synergies in the first place, it’s not surprising that ISC 3’s floor plans would reveal many cases in which labs and offices are concentrated by department. Bradley said that the organization of ISC 3 was driven by a desire to cross departmental lines, creating efficiencies as well as adjacencies that would further interdepartmental programs such as neuroscience and environmental sciences.

“So, for example, there is a neuroscience lab on the ground level that Josh Burk from psychology will oversee. It’s right next to the [Applied Science Chair Christopher] Del Negro lab, which is also neuroscience,” Bradley said. “We’ll have other examples of that kind of placement, such as adjacent labs all doing chemistry, even though the faculty involved might be in the applied science and biology departments, as well as chemistry.”

The filling of the ISC 3 will send ripples through the space-time continuum of much of William & Mary’s academic community. Offices and labs in biology that remained in Millington Hall when their colleagues migrated to ISC 1 and 2 in 2008, will move out in early August, along with some other faculty who were assigned temporary space there while their space was developed in other locations.

The new facilities of the ISC will be enhanced by new laboratory instrumentation, much of it through William & Mary’s Cabell Challenge. The Cabell Foundation has agreed to donate $500,000 to purchase new science equipment if William & Mary raises an additional $1 million.

One example of instrumentation provided by the Cabell Challenge will be a laboratory device for measuring methylmercury. Biologist Dan Cristol and his research colleagues study the effects of mercury pollution on wildlife. He and his colleagues are interested in the effects of mercury that has been processed by bacteria into a methylated form, then passed on up the food chain. He said that his current lab instrumentation allows him to evaluate the presence of mercury in a sample, but isn’t designed to differentiate between the different forms of mercury.

“Right now we can only analyze all species of mercury together,” he said. “We can’t distinguish methylmercury — which is the most bio-available form and the one that does the most harm — from other forms of mercury.”

Birds ingest mercury-laden spiders, insects and other food and process it through their digestive system circulation. The mercury ends up in feathers, so researchers only need to take a small feather to determine presence of mercury.

Cristol said that he has been estimating the proportion of methylmercury in most of his samples based on assumption that most of the mercury present in feathers is in the form of methylmercury. To validate this assumption he would send the occasional sample to an outside lab — an expensive proposition at $200 per feather. The methylmercury analyzer to be provided by the Cabell Challenge will allow the scientists and their students to do their own methylmercury analyses in their new ISC 3 lab. The instrument not only will be used for new studies, but also allows researchers to take a closer look at earlier work — even museum specimens decades old.

“I have nine freezers of samples from the mercury-polluted Shenandoah Valley,” Cristol said. “Now we can go back and look at all of those spiders and bird feathers that we collected and ask all new questions. I can do a whole new study on the Shenandoah Valley without leaving my lab.”

Cristol will share lab space with other environmental scientists. Such lab arrangements will be common in ISC 3, Bradley said, fostering collaboration while maximizing use. He noted that the teaching-research missions of the College requires two types of laboratories, so ISC 3 will have instructional labs as well as research labs.

 “At William & Mary we strive for excellence in both teaching and research,” Bradley said. “At any point in time you might have a single laboratory being used more for research, or at another time, more for instruction.”

The ISC 3 architects from the firm of Einhorn Yaffee and Prescott clustered much of the lab facilities around a four-story core known as the Machine for Science. Bradley said that versatility and common sense guided lab placement and design. For example, some psychology labs will be equipped with Faraday cage shielding to prevent electrical interference with delicate electroencephalogram instrumentation. The expanded science facilities will incorporate the makerspace culture as well, providing a place where researchers from different departments can work on interdisciplinary projects in the biological sciences.

ISC 3 will have a heavy computational aspect, too, as the university’s high-performance SciClone computer cluster will move over from Jones Hall. Bradley said William & Mary’s scientists will have ready access to SciClone facilities and personnel through this high-performance computing laboratory.

A new, research and teaching-oriented greenhouse atop ISC 2 (what once was Rogers Hall) will replace the Millington greenhouse. Bradley noted that the new greenhouse facility will provide state of the art facilities to permit faculty and students to conduct world-class research projects in plant science.

Millington is to be demolished in the fall, at a date still to be set. Bradley notes that many classes — more than anyone might think — have been meeting in Millington, most notably in the venerable, much-used Millington 150 lecture hall. The ISC 3 features a lecture hall replacement — 300 seats — in the rounded East section that nudges out toward Landrum Road. The building also contains several smaller spaces that will serve as either conference rooms or classrooms, as needed.