New biology building to promote collaboration

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Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

When the planned Yale Biology Building (YBB) is completed, Yale researchers who have been siloed for decades in the 14-floor Kline Biology Tower (KBT) will have more opportunities for collaboration.

The YBB, which is slated for construction in 2017, will improve upon existing biology facilities by encouraging face-to-face conversations between scientists and accommodating new research with reconfigurable labs. Chair of the department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Ronald Breaker said that KBT, where most biological research is currently conducted, has mostly small “catacomb”-like labs that inhibit interaction between scientists. YBB will modernize Yale’s biological capabilities on Science Hill and replace KBT’s dated facilities, he said.

“This is really MCDB’s first space like this,” Breaker said. “We do a lot of visits to different universities, we see their research infrastructures, and there’s a certain amount of jealousy. The YBB will completely change that — we will be world class.”

Breaker said KBT’s tower structure makes it difficult for scientists and undergraduates working on different floors to interact. Other problems with KBT include faulty plumbing, and decades-old safety equipment, like chemical hoods, in need of replacement.

Recent renovations to KBT hint at what is to come with YBB. On the second floor of KBT are glass doors for scribbling with washable markers, bright and open labs and places to convene. But not every floor has been updated, and KBT as a whole still does not fully address the needs of faculty and students.

“Having a fragmented research facility is simply fragmenting our science,” Breaker said.

Unlike KBT, the YBB will extend horizontally, making it easier for scientists to move between labs and share ideas, Breaker said. The YBB will also address KBT’s limited ability to accommodate the changing demands of research. Before, Breaker said, scientists needed to “knock down walls” if they wished to expand their space or make room for new equipment. Most labs in KBT are hardwired for specific types of science, but those in the YBB will be reconfigurable. Desks will be movable, not bolted to the floor and labs will be larger, giving scientists room to modify spaces as their research requires.

Breaker added that YBB will represent Yale’s commitment to staying competitive in the life sciences, specifically the expanding field of plant biology. The top floor of the YBB is likely to contain greenhouses, growth chambers and other facilities that will advance research in the area.

More broadly, Breaker said he believes the YBB will be attractive to potential applicants to Yale who are interested in pursuing biological science. Biology professor Valerie Horsley, who has a lab in KBT, added that KBT’s dated offerings had made it difficult for her lab to recruit graduate students. For all researchers in the field, Breaker said, “all boats will be raised” by the modern resources in the YBB.

Horsley said she was pleased that the YBB would address the problems of KBT’s “cramped” and distanced facilities.

“Your surroundings matter in how creative you can be,” said Horsley. “It’s hard to talk about science here without scheduling time for it — I think [the YBB] will really help foster interaction in our department.”

Planning for the building will resume this year for the third time after being stalled by the recession in 2008. At the end of this week, deputy provost for science and technology Steve Girvin will announce a committee that will present more detailed recommendations for the YBB.

“Given that it’s a big, expensive building — the one major capital project [here] for science’s near future — the committee needs to see what can we do to make this building transformational for the sciences at Yale,” Girvin said.

Construction of the Yale Biology Building is planned for Lot 22 on 230 Whitney Ave.

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