KU Biodiversity Institute renovation completed

Fri, 02/08/2013


Lori Schlenker
KU Biodiversity Institute

LAWRENCE — The KU Biodiversity Institute has announced completion of a two-year, $3.5 million renovation that has modernized the laboratories in 110-year-old Dyche Hall for 21st century research and student training about the life of the planet. A dedication reception and tours are planned from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12.

In the new facilities, KU faculty, staff and students, and visiting scholars will be able to conduct innovative research in biodiversity science, from discovering and documenting the diversity of the world’s plants and animals; to exploring their genetics, anatomy and evolution; to forecasting the potential spread of diseases and harmful invasive species; to investigating the environmental consequences of decreasing water on the Great Plains. 

Through a partnership of federal, state and private resources, the Biodiversity Institute created eight new laboratory spaces that will greatly increase the research capacity and capabilities of the institute. The renovation:

  • created an integrated five-laboratory complex where students and faculty can extract and sequence genetic material in a clean, secure environment, and clone ancient DNA from the institute’s vast historical collections of animals and plants.
  • installed a liquid nitrogen cryogenic facility to preserve the institute’s irreplaceable and growing collection of tissues of worldwide animals and plants for genetic research. 
  • established two new biotic analysis laboratories where scientists and students can study and analyze an animal’s external, internal and skeletal anatomy with the most modern tools. 
  • installed a modern Geographic Information Systems laboratory for modeling and forecasting environmental phenomena, such as the potential spread of diseases and pests, and the effects of climate change on animals, plants and ecosystems, both past and present.
  • established a modern, fivefold-larger data server room to provide the secure storage, computational analysis and global access to terabytes of biodiversity information.

The National Science Foundation awarded the Biodiversity Institute $1.5 million for the project through a program titled Academic Research Infrastructure: Repair and Renovation. The institute was the nation’s only university biodiversity organization chosen for such a project; to qualify, an organization had to demonstrate its research excellence, and its potential for increasing that excellence by replacing antiquated or outmoded laboratories. In Dyche Hall, some of these facilities were more than 45 years old.

Major state investments in the project allocated by the university included almost $2 million for electrical, HVAC and cyber connectivity. In addition, private funding helped equip the laboratories and create new spaces to accommodate graduate-student research.

Previous to the improvements, cyber bandwidth was insufficient for large-scale data access, complex geographic and modeling analyses, or research networking within KU and externally. Outmoded electrical transformers and overloaded circuits caused power outages and shutdowns of critical equipment needed to preserve animal and plant tissues, and to archive and serve data to institute and global community networks. Many of the institute’s research and training laboratories had crowded, makeshift bench space and substandard fume hoods and sinks.

“This antiquated research infrastructure kept the Biodiversity Institute from advancing its national and international leadership and innovation in biodiversity research, informatics and research-training¾particularly at a time when biodiversity science is recognized as one of society’s grand challenge research imperatives of the 21st century,” said Leonard Krishtalka, director and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “This federal, state and private investment in our scientists and students will enable us to tackle more complex research problems facing science and society, from discovering the diversity of Earth’s animals and plants, to forecasting the effects of climate change on this biodiversity, to informing its conservation and wise use.”

In partnership with five KU academic departments, the Biodiversity Institute is a global leader in the research and training of biodiversity scientists, with 50–60 graduate students in residence annually. The Biodiversity Institute is spread across seven buildings on the KU campus and is home to research collections of more than 9 million specimens and tissues of plants, animals and fossils as well as 1.2 million archaeological artifacts. The institute also includes the KU Natural History Museum, which brings biodiversity research to the public through exhibits and education programs.

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