by Robert Scalia
Ignoring the faded biohazard sign, Technical Officer Sonia Ruiz unlocks
the swinging doors tucked away in the Hall Buildings basement. Inside,
huge pipes dangle from the ceiling. Aquariums sit without fish. Empty
mason jars lie scattered along the wall.
Every reason she and the rest of the Biology Department look forward to
moving into the new Science Complex at Loyola can be summed up in this
Its 14 floors down and full of plumbing. You cant have
some ecology or a molecular lab next to fish tanks and troughs on the
floor, explains Ruiz, now sitting next to Department Chair Claire
Cupples in her office.
I think everybody will be happy with more usable space.
Yet with subdued excitement, both agree that hauling the departments
equipment and chemicals from one side of town to the other
without disrupting research and ultimately trying to please everyone
once its all said and done is no easy task.
Cupples compares the planning process to a three-dimensional jigsaw
puzzle, one in which the pieces her departments allotted
rooms are constantly resized and reshuffled as the complex is built.
Sacrifices are inevitable. Its always a toss-up, she
Still, she insists Biology has been dealt a great hand. Spread over three
floors, they will occupy five teaching labs and 22 research labs, various
instrument rooms and a modern aquatic facility and greenhouse.
To simplify matters, certain faculty members from both the ecology and
cell and molecular units were asked to submit basic lab designs, outlining
only necessities like benches and gas outlets. We cant afford
to design the labs around one persons specifications, she
adds, pointing out that this is building for the future, including professors
not yet hired.
Cupples admits there have been complaints about the new, smaller labs.
However, she insists that they only reflect current trends that favour
moving heavy equipment and desks out of research labs.
Its also a safe alternative for grad students, Ruiz points out.
You can imagine if youre eating a sandwich [in the lab] and
you get chemicals on it. It wouldnt be very healthy.
Offices will allow graduates to kick up their feet after research and
mark student papers without being disturbed.
Specialized instrument rooms, meanwhile, will be furnished with cutting-edge
equipment. Weve already started replacing aging equipment
and purchasing new pieces that can easily be moved to the new building.
Were doing this now, while the money is still there, explains
Ruiz during a brief tour of Biologys facilities.
She shows off a brand new centrifuge, which bears an uncanny resemblance
to a washing machine. Spinning at approximately 16,000 rotations per minute,
it separates the molecules of a given strain by size.
The complex will include several portable and walk-in growth chambers
that optimize plant and insect growth by controlling temperature, lighting
and humidity. A room for autoclaves will be shared with the Chemistry
and Biochemistry Department. These oven-like machines combine 120 C heat
and 15 pounds per square inch of steam to completely sterilize containers.
Twenty minutes, and you nuke everything, Ruiz says.
Most importantly, the new complex will be able to house up to 12 deep
freezers that chill to - 80 C. These will store the various strains that
are the lifes work of Concordia researchers.
This is very precious stuff. When these fail, you have a crisis.
Ruiz emphasizes the last word as she pulls one professors samples
from what looks like a CD tower covered in dry ice. In the new complex,
the freezers and the air conditioning system cooling the room where these
machines are located will run on emergency power, linked to an alarm system
should anything go wrong.
The point of acquiring all this state-of-the-art equipment goes beyond
competing with commercial labs, Cupples says.
A lot of research [here] focuses on involving student learning.
Were teaching people to think more globally: not only how to use
equipment, but how to plan experiments that utilize that equipment.
Cupples also hopes that sharing floors with other departments in the complex
will fuel future collaborations, and points out that researchers at the
Centre for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology have begun using biological
techniques in their work. The department hopes to introduce a new diploma
program in biotechnology and genomics, which would incorporate faculty
from the Departments of Chemistry/Biochemistry, Biology, and Computer
Were all very excited about it, she concludes. I
think once we are in the new building, no one will regret having left