Revisiting Jaharis

Three happy campers

Life has improved for Andrew Camilli. Before his move to new quarters in the Jaharis Family Center for Biomedical and Nutrition Sciences last summer, it was difficult for the associate professor of molecular biology and microbiology to confer with his colleague, Matthew Waldor, associate professor of medicine and of molecular biology and microbiology, on some scientific point or other. Camilli describes going over to the Waldor lab in the old days—carrying, say, reagents on ice in a bucket. He would have to leave the M&V, schlep two city blocks to the Tupper Building, then pass through virtually impenetrable building security, proceed up to Waldor’s lab and try to remember the four-digit security code to get past the lab’s outer door.

Ralph Isberg, Andrew Camilli and Matt Waldor now know the real meaning of collaboration. “Proximity is everything,” Camilli says. © Kathleen Dooher

Now if he wants to consult, he pokes his head out the door of his fourth-floor office. Waldor’s office is adjacent. Ralph Isberg, professor of molecular biology and microbiology, is settled in on the other side of Waldor. The three scientists, with their shared interest in genetic research on bacterial pathogens, had been scattered around the Boston health sciences campus, but these days, they can claim a nearly ideal collaborative setup. Having offices side by side and shared lab space just steps away allows them to check in with each other at any moment of the day, whenever the need arises. “Proximity is everything,” says Camilli. “We’re all incredibly crunched for time, and this way, it’s easy to stop by a colleague’s office or lab on a regular basis.”

Waldor concurs. “Jaharis makes interacting with Andrew, Ralph and their labs a matter of walking a few feet, and we’ve taken advantage of that,” he says. Students have benefitted too. Camilli cites a state-of-the-art but difficult to master technique called “real-time PCR” that Waldor already had used to study gene expression in pathogens during infection. “We’ve been trying to do that for years,” Camilli says of his own lab, “but hadn’t been successful because we lacked the necessary expertise. As soon as our labs moved in together, BOOM, my student walks over and learns the method in no time.”

For Camilli, square footage has grown dramatically. He estimates that he has 30 percent more space than before—and it’s shiny and new, more functionally designed and flooded with natural light coming through large floor-to-ceiling windows that front on Harrison Avenue—but he’s quick to deflect too much focus on the physical attributes of the place. “The big thing is not having shiny new countertops, even though that’s nice,” he says. “The big thing is the fusion of equipment and, most importantly, of ideas and critical feedback.”