U opens biomedical research building

by Michelle Kibiger

The University’s own bridge to the future was dedicated Friday with the grand opening of the new Basic Sciences and Biomedical Engineering Building.
The $62.7 million structure replaces the Botany Building and the Zoology Building, which were located next to Coffman Memorial Union.
The new building, which will house the latest in biomedical equipment, will draw top researchers to the University, said David Hamilton, a cell biology and neuroanatomy professor.
“This is one of the happiest days of my life,” Hamilton said. “And people are telling me that this (building) is my child, which I’m not giving away.”
Hamilton began lobbying for a new biological sciences building in the late 1980s, when the University decided it could not afford to renovate the already existing buildings.
In 1993, Hamilton and former Academic Health Center Vice President Vilis Vikmanis and adviser Cherie Perlmutter convinced the Department of Defense to give $10 million to the project. The Minnesota Legislature also appropriated $52.7 million for the building in 1990.
Various speakers, including University President Nils Hasselmo, Academic Health Center Provost Frank Cerra and Regent Chairman Tom Reagan, were quick to give credit to the taxpayers who are footing the bill for the project.
Gov. Arne Carlson said the marriage between taxpayers and the University will help build the Minnesota economy and keep the University’s high rankings in research fields.
“I want the University to be number one in everything, but particularly in medical science and the football team,” Carlson said.
He said 600 national companies, representing more than 200,000 employees, directly depend on the research conducted at the University.
“It is (the taxpayers) hope and their dream that this building and its people will ultimately make significant contributions to the broad area of the academic health sciences and be able to develop that kind of technology that can ultimately be transferred to the private marketplace,” Carlson said.
Hamilton described a time when University researchers would begin an experiment not knowing whether or not it would work because they were using obsolete equipment.
“All you’d have to do is see my old lab,” he said. “Things were always breaking down, and you don’t know if you can fix it.”
Architects designed the new building to accommodate all fields of science in a community setting, where scientists can walk down the halls, work together and discuss ideas.
“What we are providing in there is places where people can really talk about (ideas),” Hamilton said. “Places where people can walk up to a whiteboard and work out an experiment, and then they can go and do the experiment.”
U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn., worked as a member of the House Appropriations Committee to secure the defense department money.
“A significant part of the defense budget is dedicated to health care costs,” Sabo said. “As we move into the 21st century, the federal government has a responsibility to invest in the type of cutting-edge research that will be done on this building’s seven floors.”
Hasselmo said the facility’s design is revolutionary because it promotes cooperation between many scientific fields, including neuroscience, structural biology, immunology, biomedical engineering and cellular and molecular biology.
“This environment promotes and encourages above all interdisciplinary interaction among scientists,” Hasselmo said. “It is a site premised on the belief that scientific breakthroughs in the 21st century will be synergetic, as the very best minds learn from, reinforce and invigorate each other.”
Hasselmo said the Minnesota economy has gained $304 million as a result of University research projects. He said Minnesotans will benefit both economically and personally from the new building’s research.
“With this building we secure the foundation for the future of basic sciences,” Hasselmo said.