Visitors entering the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery at the UW-Madison at its Dec. 2 grand opening will encounter a striking blend of the past and the future.
The past is represented by the Mesozoic-themed garden, the fossils embedded in the floor tiles and the scientific trivia walls located in the Town Center on the first floor.
As for the future, visitors simply need to look up at the top three floors through glass walls at researchers working on health care breakthroughs.
"One thing we love is that you can see people moving around on the research floors," says project manager George Austin during a preview tour for Isthmus. "It's very deliberate so people can watch the scientists, and students can be inspired by watching them at work."
The 300,000-square-foot facility, located at 330 N. Orchard St., will house both the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and the Morgridge Institute for Research. These, respectively, are the public and private entities that will work together on biomedical research under a unique partnership, occupying different parts of the building.
UW Chancellor Biddy Martin calls the new facility "an engine for creativity" that will significantly benefit the campus and state.
"[The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery] will add to the UW's reputation for strength in biomedical research, biotechnology and information technologies," Martin writes in an email. "It will also enhance our ability to help the state and the world by getting discoveries to market more quickly, attracting investment and creating jobs."
Tim Cooley, economic development director for the city of Madison, also applauds the new research center.
"I think it's going to position Madison as an even stronger center for medical sciences, with nearly $1 billion in research funding coming into the university," Cooley says. "The Institutes for Discovery is a tremendous public-private partnership that will create new discoveries, businesses and jobs in the city and state."
The path to the new Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery began in 2004, when Gov. Jim Doyle suggested the formation of a new UW research institute to help invigorate the state's economic climate and scientific community.
In 2006, the project took shape when philanthropists John and Tashia Morgridge donated $50 million toward a new research project. They envisioned an interdisciplinary partnership between private and public research entities to help the UW-Madison stay competitive with other universities across the nation.
The Morgridges' donation was matched by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, along with $50 million in state dollars, but Austin puts the total cost of the finished building at approximately $210 million. The additional $60 million came from WARF.
"In terms of the public dollars used for the project," says Austin, "the taxpayers got a very high-value building for their investment."
In keeping with the UW's commitment to sustainability, the facility was built with a large volume of recycled materials. And, says Austin, it aims to use 50% less energy and water than other research buildings on campus.
There will also be a real-time energy-use monitor near the front desk, to make the building's occupants more mindful.
"It really helps when people can see how much energy they're using," says Laura Heisler, programming director for WARF. "Some people don't think about how much leaving a computer monitor on overnight really wastes energy."
Both WARF and the UW will pay the cost of maintaining and operating different parts of the building. And despite WARF's sizable contribution to the project, Chancellor Martin says its "level of support to the university [for other research] has not decreased."
Research at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery will center on several areas related to health care.
At the Morgridge Institute for Research, Austin says, scientists will focus on regenerative biology, virology, medical devices, pharmaceutical informatics and educational research. The Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, meanwhile, will delve into epigenetics, tissue engineering, therapeutic technology, systems biology and optimization in biology and medicine.
"Everything has a biomedical application," says Austin, adding the Institute for Discovery's five specialties were narrowed down by a special committee from a list of 26 proposals.
The Institute for Discovery's interim executive director is former UW Chancellor John D. Wiley (a committee is looking to fill the position next semester). The Morgridge Institute for Research will be headed by Dr. Sang Kim, who has worked as a computer sciences professor at the UW-Madison.
Scientists will begin moving into their laboratories to work in mid-December, and most will be in place by February.
The overarching theme of the research areas, says Austin, is collaboration and communication, as evidenced by the open floor plans and glass walls throughout the facility.
"We've created draws that bring people out and together," says Austin. "We have a researcher kitchen and dining room where people can mix, and we're looking into a regular tea hour."
The motivation for this mingling is to encourage an exchange of ideas and provide mentoring between researchers and graduate students. And to help scientists communicate with other campuses and research facilities, one of the conference rooms features a Cisco TelePresence video conferencing system, which can link to multiple facilities at once.
Though the building is located in the middle of the UW campus, its benefits will not be limited to students, researchers and faculty. As its name implies, the Town Center is open to the community. It will feature three food venues with ties to local history.
Steenbock's on Orchard is a restaurant and bar named after WARF founder and former professor Harry Steenbock. Aldo's Cafe is named after naturalist and former professor Aldo Leopold, and the Dairy Bar will serve Babcock Hall ice cream and soda as a homage to the soda shop of the Rennebohm's Drug Store, which previously stood on the site.
"This was the former headquarters of Rennebohm's, and university scientists used to go and eat there," says Austin, "so it seemed fitting to put the Dairy Bar there." An "R" from the original Rennebohm's sign will be used as decoration.
The Town Center also features an auditorium area called the "Forum," for special events like guest speakers and musical performances. The Forum's retractable walls can open up space for larger events.
WARF's Heisler says numerous events are already booked for the Town Center, aside from the grand opening celebration. These include a lecture for the university's Year of the Arts festivities, a capstone event for this year's Go Big Read program, and scientific programs for children and adults.
The facility plans to engage visitors on a daily basis, using interactive touch-screen kiosks with scientific trivia and information on the facility. There's even talk of potential scavenger hunts for children.
"We had this idea of the 'power of 10,'" says Austin. "When you come into the space, you should be engaged in at least 10 different ways to make it a vital, active space."