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INBRE Grant Transforms Research Laboratories at New England College

The linoleum floors, standard black slate countertops, and old cabinets painted in bright primary colors didn’t exactly scream “RESEARCH” when New England College students walked into the science laboratories. With little storage facilities, cramped working spaces, and meager equipment, conducting any serious study has been a challenge for them. But thanks to about $68,000 from the National Institutes of Health in the form of the INBRE grant, that’s all changed. New England College was the only INBRE partner in New Hampshire to be awarded renovation funds as part of the larger $650,000 grant received by the College in September.

Over the winter, the laboratory spaces used by Dr. Lori Bergeron, Assistant Professor of Biology, and Dr. James Newcomb, Assistant Professor of Biology, have been transformed – and so has the work of their student researchers. These research laboratories now feature ample storage units and generous work spaces. The new resin epoxy countertops are both heat and chemical resistant. New equipment includes microcentrifuges, CO2 incubators (in case you want to grow bacteria in a lower oxygen environment), and gel electrophoresis equipment for those days when you can’t wait to separate DNA and RNA. And for those not familiar with common laboratory equipment, there is a brand new freezer for storing enzymes.

According to Dr. Debra Dunlop, Professor of Biology and one of the NEC administrators of the INBRE grant, much of the recently purchased laboratory equipment is actually not all that expensive. “It’s not so much the cost of the equipment,” noted Dr. Dunlop, “but how our students use it that is important. Research is what scientists do and this renovation supports the College’s mission of engaged and experiential learning.”

In Dr. Lori Bergeron’s lab, three New England College students will be working full-time between May and August. Students will be able to tailor the floor plan of the lab to their research with a mobile work station. Another work station is ADA compliant, and there is a new station for a computer and new data lines that run through the raceways along the walls.

Dr. James Newcomb’s lab has a similar configuration but has been designed to accommodate his specialized research. The laboratory can be completely darkened allowing him to study the circadian rhythms of organisms. The cabinets have been hung higher in his lab in order to create enough room for two large aquariums, used to house marine animals. One special piece of equipment for Dr. Newcomb’s work is a vibration-free table. The 200-pound surface floats on a cushion of air eliminating any vibration that would impede microscopic examination of small cells.

“The difference between the old and new labs is immeasurable,” states Dr. Newcomb. “With the old laboratory, work surfaces and storage areas were limited and there was no refrigeration. Each new lab is around 288 square feet – that’s nearly 600 square feet of dedicated research space – there’s nothing like it on campus.  We also purchased and installed a generator to protect experiments and specimens from a long-term power failure that could destroy months of work.”

What is most exciting for Dr. Newcomb is the effect that the new laboratory space has had on the student experience at New England College. “The positive outcome of the INBRE grant can be seen in the undergraduate research program in the sciences at New England College. This is what is really profound. It plays a significant role in the educational experience at NEC and impacts just about everything we do. For example, seven students recently presented a poster at the Eastern New England Biological Conference in Boston. All of the research that went into that presentation was done right here in this new lab in the past two months.”

During the renovation, New England College’s own extreme makeover team did much of the work. Project supervisor, Carl Nudd, and Jay Burgess, Director of Campus Facilities, were instrumental in transforming the research space. “It was amazing to see both laboratories gutted in just two days,” remarked Dr. Dunlop. “NEC crews did a fantastic job on the floors, electrical, and plumbing. They completed just about everything except for hanging the cabinets on the walls. The College has made significant contributions in labor to the project in addition to what was provided by the INBRE grant. We are most grateful for their efforts to get this done in such a short time so that researchers and students can fulfill the goals of the grant.”

According to Chuck Wise, the New Hampshire INBRE Project Manager, New England College did a great job using federal funds efficiently. “The first and second floor laboratories at NEC were identical spaces,” he notes. “This allowed for one basic set of design specifications and resulted in significant design, fabrication, and installation savings. We are all quite pleased at how much laboratory renovation work was accomplished using limited funds. Quite frankly, the projects exceeded our most optimistic expectations.”