Thursday March 30, 2017

State of the Art Lab Renovations

The University of Dayton started the first phase of its Science Center renovations with state-of-the-art upgrades to more than 2,500 square feet of space in Sherman Hall. The renovations include two flexible, adaptable research labs to be used by department of biology faculty members Jayne Robinson and Yasuhiko Irie.

Robinson and Irie both conduct research with bacteria that can cause infection or detrimental build up in tubular linings. Irie joined the faculty in January.

The new lab spaces allow for continued growth of the professors’ research interests, which in turn will increase research opportunities for students.

“People hear the term ‘faculty research labs’ and they sometimes think the labs are dedicated only to faculty research projects, but the labs are actually incubators for student experiential learning,” said Cathy Wolfe, biology facilities and special projects manager. “With these renovations the University is increasing the opportunity for students to engage in research as an important element for their learning.”

The biology department stresses the importance of research for students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. These newly upgraded spaces will allow graduate and undergraduate researchers to work together as a team.

“As these students work together in the labs, the graduate students mentor the undergraduates,” Wolfe said. “In turn, those undergraduates begin to mentor other undergraduate students. The cycle fosters learning and a deeper appreciation of research. One terrific outcome of this interaction is that a number of undergraduates publish papers in collaboration with faculty and graduate students. Many of our students cite undergraduate research as being the transformative and key experience for their undergraduate learning and future career paths.”

The design team kept elements of flexibility and adaptation at the forefront of their plans as they designed the new lab spaces. The labs also follow National Institute of Health design guidelines.

Key features of the research labs include flexible casework, such as height-adjustable benches and mobile lab benches and cabinets. In the ceiling there are overhead service panels which provide “plug and play” connections to power, vacuum and gas, allowing the lab benches to be moved while maintaining lab services.

The renovations also included the creation of one new faculty office, a smaller flexible lab that houses ultra-low temperature freezers, and core research support stations that will be shared by all of the research and teaching labs. These core shared spaces include a state-of-the-art cold room, autoclave, ultra-low temperature freezers that can be centrally monitored, and a lab-grade water purifier.

The recently renovated areas are just the beginning of a large-scale renovation in the Science Center. The planned renovations will allow the University to continue to enhance the learner-centered environment for teaching, scholarship and research.

“The most important design aspect for these labs is flexibility,” Wolfe said. “We looked at the current needs of the faculty, and then also tried to anticipate how research needs will change in the future, perhaps as much as 20 years out. We want the University to be able to adapt these spaces to those needs.”

Irie and Robinson’s research will also continue to change as advancements in technology and information occur.

Robinson’s research examines how antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be broken down via an organic compound to allow antibiotics to become 1,000 times more effective against infections. She recently received a patent for her method, which has created interest from companies in licensing the compound.

“Infectious disease is one of the biggest concerns now and moving into the future, because we are running through our antibiotics so quickly,” said Mark Nielsen, biology department chair. “With Jayne Robinson’s work, it provides a new avenue of approach to questions of combating infectious disease. Beyond the consequences of this bacteria on infectious disease, it causes problems with fuel tanks and water tanks and those are elements to her research that Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is interested in.”

Irie is looking at the issues of microbiology and bacteria and exploring the way in which scientists should examine these organisms.

“I am particularly interested in biofilm,” more commonly known as slime, Irie said.

Over the last century, modern microbiology has been progressing at a quick rate. Bacteria have traditionally been studied as single-celled organisms in a test tube culture. It turns out, this is not how bacteria grow and live in their natural habitats.

“Bacteria are living and growing everywhere around us, like on your desk, or your hand or your cell phone,” Irie said. “When these bacteria grow attached to a surface, they have a completely different growth format which is called biofilm. It is estimated that anywhere between 30 to 80 percent of the gene expression is different between biofilm bacteria compared to traditionally better-studied liquid culture bacteria.”

Irie said the complexities of this issue affect the way in which scientists often create and research antibiotics.

“This becomes an issue because when scientist come up with a chemical for an antibiotic they will test it against a liquid culture or on a petri dish, and of course we now know that none of which are particularly relevant to the way in which the bacteria actually grows,” Irie said. “I am hoping that my research will give us a different insight into how we combat these types of medical infections.”

Irie, a native of Japan, received his doctorate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and completed his postdoctoral work in Seattle. He came to the University this winter after doing work in the United Kingdom and Sweden and believes the new labs will allow his research to flourish.

“Having a new state of the art renovation in a lab does take the step toward making sure that we can accomplish research that is world class,” Irie said. “The renovations are a large investment and it is the researcher's responsibility to use those resources to do research that is beneficial for the University and for the community at large.”

- Alex Burchfield ’16, communication assistant, College of Arts and Sciences

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