The new science building at Virginia Tech has state of the art features that set it apart from most others like it in the country. It's designed to be a test space between the ‘lab’ and the ‘marketplace’ that fosters new collaborations inside and outside the university.
The sleek main floor of the new Human and Agricultural Biosciences building opens into, a 4 story atrium that seems designed for inviting for conversations.
Associate Dean Saied Mostaghimi has been working with the architects for a decade to create a building that promotes interactions on the small and large scale. "We have here open space laboratories, very large laboratories that gives us flexibility to put several faculty, who do complementary work, in one lab. So there is no wall between them. The graduate students and technicians work with each other," he said.
One of the centerpieces here, the largest labs of all, are what are called the ‘pilot labs’ for pilot projects on energy, water, foods, medicines and more. “And what it does, it allows the faculty to test their innovation technologies at a scale larger than what they can do at the lab scale.”
Housed in a space the size of 3 football fields, Mostaghimi says these pilot lab facilities are among the largest in the country and that helps fulfill another strategic goal for this new building. "It's also easier to attract industry through these innovations and because they see it working it at a larger than a beaker, for example, in the laboratory.”
The new building also includes a high level bio security system, found in under a handful of universities in the country. Monica Ponder, an assistant professor of Food Science and Technology is working on spice contamination. She points to what look like huge walk in refrigerators behind locked doors.“These are walk in incubators, environmental chambers that give us very large amounts of space where we can do a shelf life trial.”
The new $54-million building replaces one built 45 years ago., water quality lab manager moved Kelly Peeler says her project testing water statewide will grow in this new facility. “When I started 2 years ago we did 13 clinics, so 13 counties through the state of Virginia and this year we’re doing 40 clinics over 30 different testings and instead of having 100 we’re having 150 kits this year so having space we’re able to rapidly grow the program and we ‘re able to help more people.”
And Professor Mike Zhang, a biological systems engineer is working to create a vaccine to help people quit smoking. With the new facilities here, he’s hoping to achieve something that’s eluded science for decades. “So when the smoker smokes, the antibody present in your blood will bind to the nicotine molecules so they won’t be able to go through the blood/brain barrier to trigger the so-called ‘highs.’ So our idea is that now we’ll be able to encourage the smoker to quit smoking because they won’t get any benefit from smoking.”
Countless projects like this are already in the works, and there is the promise of new ones that state of the art facilities like this will incubate. Three more buildings like this are in the planning stages, to be built in Blacksburg over the next 10 years.