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Microbial Mixer

Like commingling chemicals inside a test tube, the arrangement of laboratories inside UW-Madison’s new Microbial Sciences Building is designed to produce a reaction.

The 330,000-square-foot building, a glass-and-brick structure built on the site of the former E.B. Fred Hall, opens this fall as a sparkling new home for microbial research on campus. And even as they unpack, its two main tenants, the CALS Department of Bacteriology and the School of Medicine and Public Health’s Department of Medical Micro-biology and Immunology, are already engaged in an experiment. Instead of carving up the new space, the departments are interspersing labs and faculty into neighborhoods based on shared research interests.

“We tried to create a building where these (cross-unit) encounters will happen, sparking discussions and new ideas,” explains Glenn Chambliss, the outgoing chair of bacteriology.

The $121 million building is part of the state’s BioStar program, rolled out in the late 1990s to ensure Wisconsin maintained its pre-eminence in biology and biotechnology. More than half of construction costs were paid for by gifts and grants, including support from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

The facility brings together research labs that were scattered in multiple places around campus, creating new opportunities for collaboration in an area of science that has increasingly broad applications. Research on microbes is central to understanding infectious diseases such as influenza and malaria, developing new antibiotics, ensuring the safety of food and exploring alternative energy sources.

And in their new home, faculty and students will find facilities build for speed––and comfort. The building includes a Union-catered cafe and a dramatic, sunlit atrium that affords grand views of Hiram Smith Hall. Probe a bit further, and you’ll find facilities ingeniously tailored to the needs of laboratory science and instruction. There are even facilities for nursing mothers, which also double as sleeping quarters––complete with reclining chair and shower––for all-nighters in the lab.