Although Yale’s West Campus will open a new center early next week, concerns regarding funding for the project have come under the microscope.
Yale has partnered with Leica Microsystems — a German microscope manufacturer — to provide a new core imaging facility within the Integrated Science and Technology Center on West Campus. Director of Research Operations and Technology at Yale University’s West Campus Christopher Incarvito said the new “top plate equipment,” which was purchased by the University at a deeply discounted rate, will promote better research for the entire University. However, some faculty — most vocally, molecular, cellular and developmental biology professor Joel Rosenbaum — have argued the funds could have been better spent elsewhere given the ongoing administrative budget cuts.
“We have built an imaging core with high-end microscopes at a centralized facility that is open to all scientists at all locations to access,” Incarvito said. “We have established now — over the course of a year — something of value to the University.”
Incarvito added that the new space, dubbed the Leica “Center of Excellence,” will be comprised of five new Leica microscopes in a several-hundred-square-foot facility. He added that although Leica is providing equipment not available to the general public, Yale can still contract with other companies such as Nikon and Andor for other equipment in its imaging core.
Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steven Girvin called the deal with Leica “very favorable” because the University is receiving the newest high-tech equipment at reduced rates. Girvin added that he estimated the University paid roughly $1 million for the new equipment, but the exact costs could not be disclosed since Leica is still determining prices for public sales.
According to West Campus Vice President for Planning and Program Development Scott Strobel, the new microscopes are crucial for visualizing the inner parts of cells. He added that the project is particularly relevant given last week’s Nobel Prize in chemistry, which was awarded for the invention of super resolution microscopy — the very type of microscopes that are found in the new Leica center.
“Having these next generation tools is the difference between getting a result before your competitor,” Strobel said.
Professor of cell biology at the Yale School of Medicine David Baddeley, who served on a faculty advisory committee for the CoE, agreed that the new equipment will be crucial for Yale to maintain a competitive edge in research.
Access to good microscopes is fundamental to life science research, he said, adding that the new center will likely produce exciting research in the future.
But not all members of Yale’s science department are heralding the creation of the center as a reason to celebrate.
Rosenbaum said the costs that have been directed to this project come at the expense of funding for undergraduate research, citing a popular electron microscopy course that was cut in the MCDB Department last spring.
In an Oct. 10 email addressed to University Provost Benjamin Polak — which Rosenbaum provided to the News — he decried University funds being “dumped” into the imaging center, while the electron microscopy facility on the central campus has been closed down for cost-cutting reasons. He described Osborn Memorial Libraries, which contain laboratory space and undergraduate classrooms, as now “rotting away,” lacking minimal funds to keep it in usable condition.
He also called into question the million-dollar price tag the administration reportedly attached to the facility. The cost incurred by the University was likely much more, he said.
“Many of my colleagues guess — and it is just a guess — that the new imaging facility cost between $10 and $20 million,” Rosenbaum told the News. “Lab reconstructions are very expensive and those labs — already in good shape — were completely re-done.”
Polak confirmed he received an email from a faculty member regarding his opposition to the CoE. However, he said that budgeting for West Campus is calculated separately from the central campus budget.
Still, he said that despite West Campus’ distinct financial status, the funds are still “Yale money” and therefore part of the overall budget of the University.
Rosenbaum also said that the time it will take to visit the West Campus facility may discourage visitors, and he suspected the undergraduate use of the facility was an “afterthought.”
Still, Girvin said the central premise of a core facility is that it will be accessible to anyone.
“What I can say is that it is shared facility available to anyone at Yale, whether at the Medical School, on Science Hill or wherever,” Girvin said.
Strobel echoed that unlike some other smaller microscope labs on Science Hill that are individually based, this center can used by everyone at Yale.
Polak said budgetary concerns in the sciences are often inevitable for any research university.
“The issue of resources is a more acute issue in sciences than in anywhere else,” he said. “The reason is that its just costs a lot more to do than anywhere else, and so we are always going to be resource constrained in the sciences.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held on the premises of the facility to mark the opening of the new Leica CoE on Oct. 20 and 21.