With glass greenhouses that glow above its roofline and fish nestled in hundreds of tanks, UNT's new Life Sciences Complex is a "living lab" where the study of plants and fish yield clues to solving human maladies.
But it's more than a cutting-edge research facility. It's a sign of what's to come on UNT's path to becoming a major research university.
UNT is transforming its environment from the inside out. The university has created new facilities, renovated its existing space and boosted its computational power to give faculty and students the latest tools to carry out innovative research, art and scholarship.
"As UNT matures into a major research university, we'll continue to focus on creating environments that combine the best of research and learning, because you can't have one without the other if you want to be a truly great university," President V. Lane Rawlins says. "World-class facilities help us develop knowledge and solutions for tomorrow, not just pass along yesterday's understanding."
UNT has a great combination of excellence and potential, says Vishwanath "Vish" Prasad, vice president of research and economic development. The university can capitalize on its long-held strengths in the sciences, which include a 100-year-old chemistry program, a nearly 90-year-old biological sciences program, and a 75-year legacy in the environmental sciences. At the same time, UNT is shaping its young engineering and technology programs to be leading collaborative research programs from the outset, Prasad says. And with UNT's nearly 290-acre research park, Discovery Park, offering the potential for incubation and technology commercialization, UNT can be a research hub like no other.
"By building cutting-edge facilities that support innovative, collaborative research, we're creating new areas of excellence for the university while making important advances in health, science, technology, agriculture, the environment and so much more," Prasad says.
Opened this fall, the $33.2 million Life Sciences Complex is a modern research facility with open labs that promote collaboration and learning.
The complex combines the existing classrooms and labs of the Biology Building with a new 87,000-square-foot building of additional research space. It furthers UNT's impact in aquatic organisms and plant sciences research, much of which is carried out through the Developmental Physiology and Genetics cluster and the Signaling Mechanisms in Plants cluster.
In the Developmental Physiology and Genetics cluster, researchers study developmental physiology and genetics from the molecular to organism levels, collaborating to better understand the mechanics of developing organisms.
The aquatics lab enables researchers to study a wide range of human health issues, from blood clots and oxygen deprivation to aging, diabetes and cancer. It houses more than 2,500 tanks and tens of thousands of saltwater and freshwater fish — making the facility one of the largest aquatic university labs in the nation.
The freshwater facility is essential to the cluster's ability to perform and expand research using zebrafish, Danio rerio, as a well-established model for studying thrombosis, tissue hypoxia and hemostasis to address questions in human trauma and cardiovascular disease. The saltwater facility is used to help conduct research to understand how environmental and anthropogenic stress affects aquatic ecosystems and ultimately the fish food supply. The facility also supports research important to the effects of climate change on ocean ecosystems, fisheries and aquaculture, as well as work on critical problems in conservation physiology, such as ocean acidification.
"The aquatics lab will place UNT on the national map," says Pudur “Jag” Jagadeeswaran, professor of biology who is in charge of the freshwater lab and is conducting research on zebrafish. "Our research on aquatic organisms is already recognized, and expanding the facility will give us even more prestige."
At the same time, the four rooftop greenhouses support technologically advanced plant science research that will seek to increase agricultural productivity.
The greenhouses provide 1,800 square feet of climate-controlled space. Hot crops — such as cotton, tobacco, corn and kanaf — will be grown separately from cold crops, such as alfalfa, winter wheat, strawberries and Arabidopsis.
Already, UNT's biochemists and molecular biologists are known for their research focusing on signaling mechanisms in plants, or understanding the way plant cells communicate, to find solutions to issues relating to energy, agriculture, nutrition and medicine.
Understanding signaling processes can help regulate crop yield and resistance to pathogens, insects and other adverse environmental conditions such as drought and heat stress. For instance, researchers could engineer crops so that fewer environmentally dangerous pesticides are needed or better fortify existing foods such as rice with more minerals and nutrients.
Focusing more on collaborative, multidisciplinary research — and the resources that go with it — has spurred on faculty research and has helped the university attract other prominent researchers, including two internationally known plant scientists, Vladimir Shulaev and Ron Mittler, who joined UNT this fall because of its growth as a research university and its new facilities.
"UNT is entering an exciting stage in its development and could potentially become one of the leading research institutes in plant signaling in the country," Mittler says. "I was highly impressed with the commitment, dedication and motivation of the higher administration and faculty to this mission. I feel that if this trend continues, there is a great future for UNT."
Warren Burggren, provost and vice president for academic affairs, says UNT's strategic investments will continue to signal progress to the world.
"As the saying goes, 'If you build it, they will come,'" Burggren says. "People see that we're investing in our programs and our people and that we're on the path to something greater."
The Life Sciences Complex also is giving UNT a new set of green credentials. With eco-friendly features, the four-story complex is on track to be UNT's first building to receive gold-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, meaning it adheres to strict environmental standards.
One of UNT's more notable new research facilities is not a building, but a supercomputer that enables researchers to do more complex calculations and work with large data sets so they can perform invaluable research in fields ranging from aeronautics to carbon sequestration and experimental music and art.
Providing a tenfold increase in computational power, the new Talon High-Performance Computing System has helped UNT expand its reach in computation-based research.
Talon is made up of 224 separate computer servers and has 200 terabytes of storage, which is enough to house 10 copies of all of the books in the Library of Congress or 40,000 DVDs. And it operates at a speed of 20 teraflops.
Among the many users of Talon are faculty in computational chemistry, computational epidemiology, bioinformatics, physics, mathematics, biology, materials science, and mechanical and energy engineering.
Talon has played an important role in attracting new faculty such as Qunfeng Dong, a bioinformatics professor in the Developmental Physiology and Genetics cluster who holds a joint appointment in biological sciences and computer science and engineering. Dong, who was drawn to UNT for its excellent environment, knew that with Talon, he would have more than adequate computational resources for his research.
Already, Talon has given Dong and his collaborators a competitive edge. They recently won a grant in bioinformatics from the National Institutes of Health based on critical data that Talon helped them to generate.
UNT's $6 million Nanofabrication Analysis and Research Facility will be one of the most advanced university laboratories for materials synthesis and analysis and micro/nano device fabrication. Construction on the facility began in fall 2010 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2011.
NARF, which is funded in part by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will integrate the federally funded Center for Advanced Research and Technology with a new clean room (class 10,000 and class 100) at Discovery Park.
NARF will allow scientists to synthesize and process new materials and then test and examine them at the molecular and atomic levels using CART's 27 state-of-the-art instruments and microscopes. CART is one of the nation's most extensive facilities for multi-scale materials characterization and analysis.
The CART instruments will be housed in 10 contiguous research laboratories encompassing about 5,500 square feet. The renovated space will be equipped with vibration isolation pads and electric field isolation cages to ensure optimum performance of the instrumentation. The new 3,000-square-foot clean room will be located immediately adjacent to the renovated area.
When NARF is complete, UNT scientists will be able to synthesize and process samples of new materials and devices in the new clean room and transfer them to the advanced characterization equipment in CART under controlled atmospheric conditions, as needed. Using the array of instruments available, scientists will be able to see three-dimensional images of semiconductor devices and test materials at near-atomic to atomic resolution.
With a unique open design and features allowing remote, real-time display of research activities, the lab will promote research collaboration and science education around the world.
The space will be wired to allow scientists at other sites to see images from the microscopes immediately via their computers and, in certain cases, to actually control the operation of the instrument remotely.
NARF was designed to foster learning as much as research. Research activities could be transmitted in real-time to schools and museums for better scientific understanding among students and the public. And with the equipment protected by glass wall enclosures, visitors will be able to see it and the research under way.
"Like many of our new buildings, this facility will showcase what already makes UNT a leader and gives us the tools to expand our reach," Prasad says. "When you build for the future, you build for what could be, not just what is."
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Web page last updated or revised: January 11, 2011
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