September 30, 2010 | Myrna Anderson

In April 2011, Calvin scientists from several disciplines are relocating to the basement.

Chemistry professors David Benson, Chad Tatko and Eric Arnoys, biology professors Randall DeJong, John Wertz and Amy Wilstermann, physics professor Loren Haarsma and computer science professors Victor Norman and Serita Nelesen are shifting quarters to a new 4,450-square-foot  wet lab—now entering its construction phase—on the ground floor of DeVries Hall.

"Everyone on that list has committed to moving their lab down here,” said Benson. Funded through a $951,150 Academic Research Infrastructure Grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the lab has been christened the Integrated Scientific Research Experimental Laboratory: the ISRx.

"It’s an experiment,” said Benson. “It’s meant to facilitate collaboration.”

Researching across disciplines

The ISRx is the latest of the science division’s efforts to work across disciplines. “Science is about solving problems. Disciplines don’t solve problems. Scientists solve problems,” said Tatko. “To train our students to solve problems, we need to train them to be flexible thinkers.”

The new lab will be built as an open area with separate benches for chemistry, biology, physics and computer science. “We need to have faculty and students from different departments doing physical research in the same location,” said Tatko. “What makes this lab is exciting is that it builds an interdisciplinary community.”

The crew of the ISRx will share their new space with some sophisticated equipment: a MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer, a 500-megahertz NMR spectrometer, an Apotome fluorescence microscope, a virtual-reality computer interface, a total internal reflected fluorescence microscope, a patch clamp single cell apparatus and associated microscope, two high pressure liquid chromatographs, a real-time PCR machine, along with assorted molecular biology and chemical synthesis equipment.

"The main lab is going to be the showcase lab,” Benson said.

At the center of the ISRx are shared areas, where the scientists (and their student research assistants) can plug in their laptops and share their research with each other via 40-inch LCD panels. Around the lab’s perimeter are areas for research that needs to stay segregated: “Some experiments can’t be performed in the same room because the results will be affected by light or vibrations,” Benson explained.

Taking a cue from ISRI

The ISRx is a physical outgrowth of the Integrated Science Research Institute (ISRI), founded in 2008 through a $1.1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to foster collaboration in the sciences through research, faculty development, curriculum innovation and outreach. (In their proposal to found the ISRx, Benson and Tatko drew heavily on the language of the original proposal to HHMI.)

"While ISRI focuses on financially supporting collaborative research, ISRx will focus on providing common space that can incubate collaborative research,” Benson said. “Both efforts are … necessary to growing interdisciplinary research.”

Calvin is one of only 21 chemistry departments in the U.S. to receive the NSF-ARI grant, which hasn’t been offered since the 1990s. “Ten percent of the proposals that were submitted were funded,” said Tatko, “and they are never going to offer this again.

I think it’s a testament to Calvin as an institution.”

Benson agreed. “This grant requires the reallocation of pre-existing research space, which is always contentious,” he said. “This renovation will affect space associated with five departments. It is a testament to the spirit and mission of Calvin College that this renovation could be proposed, developed, and completed."

Professors Benson and Tatko

Lab floor plan

Professor Tatko

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