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RSMAS inaugurates $50 million marine research complex

President Donna E. Shalala cuts a ribbon to inaugurate the new Marine Technology and Life Science Seawater Complex at the RSMAS campus Thursday. Sophie Barros // Contributing Photographer.

President Donna E. Shalala cuts a ribbon to inaugurate the new Marine Technology and Life Sciences Seawater Complex at the RSMAS campus Thursday. Sophie Barros // Contributing Photographer

The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) inaugurated its new 86,000-square-foot Marine Technology and Life Sciences Seawater Complex, which will allow for groundbreaking experiments and scientific investigations.

The brand new research complex is worth $50 million, and will support research in the areas of air-sea interaction, marine life science, tropical marine biology and biomedicine, all under one roof.

University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala gave opening remarks about the Marine Technology and Life Sciences Seawater Complex at the inauguration ceremony held Thursday at the RSMAS campus in Virginia Key, Florida.

“The difference between this building and the many other buildings that we built, is that this is a building about discovery,” Shalala said. “This is at the center of what great research universities are about. Every once in a while you get the chance to invest in a building that is a game changer. But a game changer that will improve the lives and the opportunities of people all over the world. … That’s the kind of science we are doing here.”

The complex has state-of-the-art facilities, including a 38,000-gallon tank that can reproduce the winds of a Category 5 hurricane. This allows researchers to investigate the forecasting of hurricanes without having to deal with the dangers of the field.

“It’s exciting because we have the opportunity to make measurements in a facility that is truly unique in the world,” said Nathan Laxague, a third-year doctoral student at RSMAS. “There are other wave tanks that are longer. There are other wave tanks that are wider. There are wind tunnels that can go faster. But there’s no facility that can match our ability to combine size, strength and speed to simulate hurricanes.”

The construction of the building was made possible namely by a $5 million donation from the Glassell foundation, and a $15 million competitive grant by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

“Only four out of 93 grant applicants were chosen, so it really was the best of the best,” said Mary Saunders, associate director for management resources and NIST,  during her speech at the opening ceremony. “Today we are celebrating more than this facility. We are celebrating the public good that can be achieved through investment in science and technology. I’m more than convinced that this money was very well spent.”

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, guests had the opportunity to tour the new complex, where graduate students shared their research in the brand new labs.

Attendees of the inaugural ceremony look at the new marine research facility's features. Sophie Barros // Contributing Photographer

Attendees of the inaugural ceremony look at the new marine research facility’s features. Sophie Barros // Contributing Photographer

The new complex will, in some ways, substitute the Glassell laboratory, a controlled environment building built in 1961. Some of the changes between the old Glassell building and this one include double, and sometimes triple, the amount of space, additional storage areas, anti-sedimentary tanks and a more pleasant environment for the marine animals that students use for research, due to easier access to sanitizing resources.

The complex will also house the cutting-edge research of the Aplysia Californica, a type of sea slug that can be used to investigate neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease. This is the same type of research that led neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel to win the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Kandel investigated the animals’ simple nervous system to understand how they learn and, hence, how they lose their ability of retaining knowledge, later trying to apply his discoveries to understand the human brain.

“It’s a beautiful building and we are going to be closer to just being a part of RSMAS instead of being isolated across the street,” said Dustin Stommes, a research assistant involved in the Aplysia studies.

Rivah Winter, a fourth-year doctoral student researching the effect of climate change in coral reefs, also compared the old labs with the new research complex.

“It’s pretty much night and day,” Winter said. “We have so much more space. Our experiments are going to be better reached, better replicated. It’s just wonderful having everything all in the same building, all on the same floor. It just helps the whole scientific research run more smoothly.”

The complex will be available for both graduate and undergraduate RSMAS students, and it is expected that it will dictate standards for marine research around the globe.

October 3, 2014


Sophie Barros

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