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Cutting-edge Science Research Building opens on campus

GENE SPLICING: Cutting a ribbon that resembles a strand of DNA are (from left), David Miller, Jack Petch, David Peterson, Franco Vaccarino and John Bassili. (Photos by Ken Jones.)

After a swish of scissors that cut through a ribbon-made strand of simulated DNA, the new Science Research Building at the University of Toronto Scarborough was officially opened on Oct. 16.

Local officials joined with faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends on a cool autumn afternoon to celebrate the opening of the new three-storey facility that provides vibrant, collaborative space for interdisciplinary teaching and research. Following the ceremony, guests attended tours of various labs, talked with researchers and graduate students, and learned more about the research taking place inside the building. To view more photos of the event, click here.

Toronto Mayor David Miller, U of T Chancellor David Peterson, and U of T Governing Council Chair John Petch, were among those on hand. They joined in with U of T Scarborough Principal Franco Vaccarino and Professor John Coleman, Vice-President (Research and Graduate Studies) and other senior U of T administrators who celebrated the opening the state-of-the-art building and the ongoing excellence of research on campus.

Professor Coleman conveyed the excitement of the campus community, not only for the new building but also for the vitality and global relevance of the research taking place inside.

“I hope you’ll be as impressed as I am with the quality of the dynamic space here,” Coleman told the crowd. “I have been privileged to witness the scientific enterprise at this campus undergo a truly transformative phase at U of T Scarborough. The innovation agenda can’t be purchased at Grand & Toy or Staples -- we have to build it, and we must have the infrastructure in place to make it happen. This building has been constructed specifically for research, and it represents a maturation taking place on this campus, representing the new reality and the fact that we are positioning ourselves as a strong research centre with a place on the world stage.”

As a result of exponential growth over the past decade, more than 10,000 students attend U of T Scarborough. Many top researchers and scholars now make the Scarborough campus of University of Toronto their research and teaching home. The new Science Research Building is the first of its kind on this campus to be dedicated exclusively to fostering collaborative research activity.

“The new Science Research Building will make a vital contribution to the vibrant intellectual life of this campus,” said Principal Vaccarino. “State-of-the-art facilities are essential to attracting world class experts who enrich undergraduate and graduate life with cutting-edge knowledge and research. This building represents U of T Scarborough’s ‘coming of age’ as an important centre for research and discovery.”

The 6,080 square metre Science Research Building is home to 16 principal investigators and their research staff of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Throughout this facility, scientists and their research teams will explore questions that matter to the whole planet. On the first floor researchers examine the impact of the physical and social environment on brain function and response. The second floor is directed toward the study of plant form and function, with the ultimate aim of improving crop productivity and value. Researchers on the third floor are using sophisticated technologies to identify, track and assess the impact of dangerous contaminants in the environment.

The Science Research Building, designed by Moriyama & Teshima Architects, is state-of-the-art for establishing research clusters in a more open concept setting than is historically used in science buildings. The design brings together experts who share common interests and technology to permit new levels of interaction and encourage interdisciplinary collaboration.

"The open concept design of the laboratory space with adjacent graduate student and postdoc desk zones means that the entire research team of principal investigators, post doctoral fellows, and student researchers can remain intimately connected to the work underway,” said Professor John Coleman, Vice-Principal, Research and Graduate Studies. “The environment will stimulate collaborative activity between groups of researchers and increase opportunities for innovation.”

"The opening of this building shows our continued commitment to excellence in science, research and innovation,” said Jack Petch, Chair of U of T’s Governing Council. “Our University remains at the forefront of scientific discovery in Canada, and the Science Research Building will propel us even farther along this trajectory."

The building’s open concept labs and research “clusters” will foster sharing of ideas and research collaborations that can lead to great discoveries and shared knowledge in science, according to university officials and professors in the new labs.

“This building is unparalleled as a setting conducive to research,” said Psychology Professor Laura-Ann Petitto. “The communal structure of the labs creates an incubator that stacks the deck in favor of making significant discoveries.” Petitto studies the biological bases of language, especially involving early language acquisition, and her team studies babies and children.

“Our research group is no longer dispersed across multiple floors and rooms,” said Professor Frank Wania, who studies organic environmental chemistry. His research focuses on tracking pollution to improve the health of the planet, and his team aims to understand and quantify the fate and behavior of organic chemicals in the environment. One of the new enclosed sterile spaces allows for examination and testing of tiny traces of contaminants in environmental samples, something that was not possible in the older facility. Students will no longer have to commute to federal government labs to conduct this research. “By having the lab and office in close proximity, students can work at their desks while still running experiments in the lab nearby.”

“My students and I have never shared one space, and we are now all together,” said Psychology Professor Konstantine Zakzanis. “This has already fostered an atmosphere of greater collaboration and communication. We can now also test multiple patients at the same time, given that we have four ‘test rooms’ wherein we conduct neuropsychological and psychological examinations. Given the proximity of the rooms and the ease in which patients from the community can now find us, we anticipate greater participation from patients and subjects in the community for research and training purposes.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough