Occidental plans expansion of Moore Lab and Bioscience

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Various specimens in their display case in Moore Laboratory of Zoology at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Molly Kauffman/The Occidental

Occidental will begin to remodel the Moore Laboratory of Zoology and Bioscience Building over the summer of 2018 as part of the new Anderson Environmental Research Center project. The project involves expanding and repurposing the first and second floors of Moore Lab as well as 20 percent of the Bioscience Building. Specific plans include reconfiguring lab spaces in both buildings, designing a new genomics center in Moore Lab and repurposing the adjacent loading dock into a dive locker for marine biology’s field research, according to Moore Laboratory Collections Manager James Maley.

The entire project is expected to take between 15 to 18 months. Director of Facilities Management Thomas Polansky said that the faculty and administration are working together to minimize the impact of the project on current research and students’ experience.

John McCormack, the director and curator of Moore Laboratory of Zoology, explains plans to utilize the building’s space more efficiently at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Molly Kauffman/The Occidental

According to John McCormack, biology professor and director and curator of the Moore Lab, the catalyst for the entire project came from a grant from the National Science Foundation to replace the specimen cases in the Moore Lab. McCormack said that the cases were from the 1950s and did not protect the specimens from exposure and pests. McCormack started sketching out ideas for remodeling his lab space when he began working for the college in 2012 and applied for a grant from the National Science Foundation for funds to replace the old cases in 2014. He said that when he discussed the idea with the administration and President Jonathan Veitch, they saw this as a chance to renovate more of the building and create space for a new genomics center in the Moore Lab to study genetic material.

Maley said that a new genomics center would greatly improve DNA sequencing research and collaboration within the biology department. Most of the department’s research is focused on the collections of biological species — the Moore Lab’s collection of over 65,000 bird specimens, the Cosman shell collection and the Vantuna Research Group’s fish collection. Maley said that all of the collections are storehouses for genetic information that can be studied.

“The genomics center is going to have a special area where we can extract DNA from those old specimens and use them in research. So it’s going to activate these biological collections in new research directions,” McCormack said.

McCormack said that the genomics research center and new DNA sequencing technology may help Occidental become recognized as an institution doing innovative research. It would also make Occidental one of the only colleges in the area with the technology to conduct research on biological populations, inviting more collaboration with other institutions.

An array of specimens on file at The Moore Laboratory of Zoology at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Molly Kauffman/The Occidental

McCormack said that the school received $750,000 from the Fletcher Jones Foundation and $400,000 from the Keck Foundation to fund the remodel plans. According to McCormack, the additional funding expanded the scale of the project to encompass the Moore Lab and Bioscience building.

The college hired CO Architects and specialists in laboratory design and construction to draft plans for the buildings, according to Polansky. He said that faculty and administration have met for the past year and a half to discuss plans for the remodel and decided what additional space is needed to accommodate the biology department’s needs.

Polansky said that one plan is to turn the loading dock behind the Moore Lab into a space for the marine biology department to store equipment and specimens. He said that it would be a more logical use of space and make it easier to transport specimens between the Moore Lab and the Bioscience Building.

Additionally, the entrance of Moore Lab will be remodeled to show visitors the work being done inside the building. McCormack said that this may include display cases or possibly an aquarium of live specimens.

The Moore Laboratory of Zoology stores taxidermied specimen samples to be later remolded at Occidental College, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Molly Kauffman/The Occidental

The first floor of the Moore Lab will be expanded to create more usable space for offices and classrooms. According to biology professor Gretchen North, the marine biology program will benefit from this remodel because it currently lacks sufficient office and lab space to accommodate its faculty and student demands.

“On the second floor there will also be a conversion to more office space so there can be maybe one more faculty member,” North said. “Essentially this expansion and repurposing of space will bring together and highlight some of the key environmental programs of the biology department.”

According to North, students and faculty will use the new genomics research center to produce data on the specimens collections, allowing them to track specific changes in the population and link them to changes in the environment.

“We’ve been doing the most with what we have right now and I think we’ve been able to produce some great work and I think it’s due to the camaraderie of the people who are in here,” said Maley. “I think we are all excited about the remodel and getting a new space even though it is going to be a bit of a challenge to continue to work while we are in the remodel phase.”