A space for things both great and small

Over the past year or so, I have been fortunate to have a wonderful view of the work site at the Jaharis Family Center for Biomedical and Nutrition Sciences. Construction of the building began when I began performing experiments for my thesis about a year and a half ago. Now I can see the complete structure, ready to host our education and discovery, and I am still working at the bench.

It occurs to me that the construction of a hypothesis and the construction of a building are not at all dissimilar. Importantly, they both deal with issues of space and organization of that space.

The biomedical research that takes place on the Boston campus encompasses a vast array of spaces. The cell, the basic unit of life, and the basic unit of inquiry here, is about 10 to 20 micrometers. Proteins, which serve as the armature and machinery of the cell, can be much smaller, on the order of nanometers. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance—a technique that can tell us about the form of all kinds of smaller biomolecules—concerns itself with distances at the level of the Angstrom, which is very, very small.

Strangely, the study of such small things requires quite a lot of lab space. Large equipment such as freezers, hoods, centrifuges, scintillation counters, spectrometers, darkrooms, microscopes and incubators are all fairly common and cumbersome. Smaller equipment also takes up a surprising amount of bench and cabinet space: gel boxes, eppis, pipettes, glassware, chemicals, agar plates...

Modern laboratories also need space for computers, printers and scanners. The layout of the Jaharis Center itself innovatively organizes the space such that very little room is wasted, so that the lab space is flexible to allow for future equipment, whatever its size.

Importantly, the new Jaharis Center does not just encompass lab space. There are also classrooms, lounges and other meeting areas. Once data is collected and analyzed in the laboratory, as students, we learn to present our data in lab meetings, department seminars and committee meetings. This sharing of data can often lead to further questions, new insights, discoveries, collaborations and friendships.

In this way, the Sackler community has taught me how to think as a scientist, but also about becoming a member of the scientific community. This represents one of the most important lessons that Sackler teaches its students. Science is a social endeavor. We need to effectively communicate our ideas to each other.

The new Jaharis Center gives us space to do just that. It will bring together researchers from the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the Sackler and medical schools to allow for more collaboration. When you consider the 500 Tufts researchers concentrated in a two-block area around the new Jaharis Center, you can only begin to imagine what improvements to health care and the quality of life may be just around the corner.

Unfortunately, space requirements both for researchers and for the cells that they study are not static. Cell growth is a tightly regulated process. The ratio of cells to available space is crucial: Cell death can occur in an environment that is too crowded. A supportive environment is required both for cell growth and for institutional growth. Therefore, the Jaharis Center is an important step in the expansion of the Sackler School.

This new building will expand our current medical research space by 50 percent, growth which is especially exciting to see at our relatively young school. As we grow, we are deeply appreciative of the generosity that made this new research facility a reality.

In short, space raises important questions in biomedical science and in the facilities that we use to answer these questions. As students, we wrestle daily with issues of real estate: tissue organization, cell size, protein localization, inter- and intra-molecular interactions, or even finding enough bench space for all of our stuff.

With this in mind, I am pleased to share to share this space with those gathered today. On behalf of all Sackler students and others throughout the Tufts health sciences campus, I would like to extend the greatest measure of gratitude to the Jaharis family for their support. They have given us space to work, reflect and grow.

Editor's note: Adrienne Boire, president of the Graduate Student Council at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, gave this speech at the November 1 dedication of the Jaharis Family Center for Biomedical and Nutrition Sciences on the Boston campus.