Who knew life sciences had anything to do with the four-minute
mile?

At the grand opening convocation of the Life Sciences Institute
on Friday, LSI Director Alan Saltiel compared the groundbreaking
concept of the institute to the first time the four-minute mile was
accomplished 50 years and eight days ago.

Saltiel said he hopes that just as the four-minute mile is no
longer a spectacular event, the new type of collaborative effort at
the institute will become a common occurence.

“The institute now puts this university on the leading
edge of biological research,” he said.

Because there was little understanding of the collective nature
of biology, the different sciences were typically separated, said
keynote speaker Edward Wilson, a professor from Harvard University.
Researchers only interacted with others in their own field, he
said.

LSI, on the other hand, was designed to “break down
barriers between disciplines,” both literally and
figuratively, Saltiel said.

Because there are no walls physically separating the labs of
researchers in different fields, Saltiel calls the labs
“collaboratories.” Scientists even share office space,
copy rooms and break areas, which further encourages
interdisciplinary collaboration.

Life sciences are defined as any of the branches of natural
science dealing with the structure and behavior of living
organisms. This includes the fields of biochemistry, biotechnology,
cell biology, genetics and medicine.

LSI is a 230,000 square-foot laboratory that cost $100 million
to build. The building opened its doors in September 2003 but did
not hold its grand opening convocation until Friday. The opening
was one of the kick-off events for the University’s campaign
The Michigan Difference.

Saltiel attributes the delay of the convocation to the
institute’s hectic schedule. The impetus of the concurrent
fundraising campaign will aid the institute in reaching its $30
million goal, Saltiel said. This money will be used for endowed
professorships, to support research and buy equipment.

The institute houses two separate centers — the Center for
Chemical Genomics and the Center for Structural Biology.

Although the institute hopes to employ 25 to 30 faculty members
and a total of 350 staffers, it currently has 13 head researchers
and about half of the graduate students and technicians they expect
to employ in the future.

LSI is part of a three-building complex that includes Palmer
Commons and the Undergraduate Science Building.

Palmer Commons is a $32 million, 99,000 square-foot conference
hall and office facility, complete with a restaurant and banquet
services.

The third part of the complex, still under construction, is the
$61 million, 140,000 square-foot Undergraduate Science Building. It
is slated for completion in fall 2005 and will feature lecture
halls and teaching laboratories for undergraduate science courses,
as well as office space for student programs.

The complex is located at the juncture of the Central and
Medical Campuses to build what Saltiel called a “physical and
philosophical bridge” between the two.

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