For the past three days, I have been attending a neural circuits conference at Janelia Farm. Yes, I realise neural circuits has nothing to do with my current research (nutritional epidmiology) but my program requires us to attend at least one conference and neuroscience is an interest of mine anyway (interesting enough that I actually graduated with a major in it!).
Briefly, Janelia Farm is actually on the National Register of Historic Places. The land it encompasses is enormous (but then again, it seems like there is a lot of space in Loudon county anyway) and I believe that one of the reasons why HHMI decided to build a new research facility there was that it was ‘development friendly’. Janelia actually comes from a hybrid of two names–Jane and Cornelia, daughters of Farmer Pickens (who obviously owned the farm), a part-time farmer and full-time writer. Because it is registered with the National Register of Historic Places, the manor that housed the Pickens family has been preserved and the overall geography of the farm remains unchanged (and this includes the super-long driveway which is literally a road in itself!). The research building itself is gorgeous. Built into the landscape, each floor is the ground floor. Let me explain: the farm is built into the hill that is part of the farm so that each descending floor goes underground but yet feels like its the ground floor.The structure itself is curved and there are little, if any, walls separating each lab from each other.
Each ‘lab’ is composed of a maximum of 6 members and post-docs can have their own mini-lab group of 2. Lab heads and lab leaders are autonomous (as in lab leaders don’t work for the lab heads) and collaboration is key to the design of the labs (in idea and spirit). There is so much space available that its almost mind-boggling especially when you (meaning me) know how precious lab space is especially in most universities these days. Another unique aspect of this research facility is the flexibility it was designed for. The lab benches are designed so that in theory, it can be taken completely apart to provide a completely empty room open to re-design as the needs of the scientists change. Adaptability and collaboration are ideas that are driving this facility and I think its fantastic.
In addition, the view is amazing since its made almost completely out of glass from top to bottom. One can see for miles and miles beyond all the way to the Potomac river. I almost wished there was a thunderstorm so that we could see the lightning flashing across the wide sky.
The facility also has its own bar (yes! they serve alcohol…afterall, scientists work there!), cafeteria AND childcare (super-secure…only people with kids there can access it and a school bus take some of the kids there for after-school care). They are developing their own microscope and machines.
And just in case anyone is feeling out of breath from this breath-taking beauty, Janelia farm research park has several well-placed “breathing apparatus”!
When I first saw these “breathing apparatus” boxes, the image of scientists running down the hallway shrieking “Eureka! Eureka! Euuuurrreeeekkkkaaa!” and then collapsing halfway because they had expanded their lung (and exercise) capacity and had to be resuscitated with a “breathing apparatus”.