Lab renovations planned with grant awards


Author: Margaret Su

Moore Lab of Zoology has received a combined total of $2.95 million for renovations and upgrades from the Fletcher Jones Foundation, the Keck Foundation and an anonymous alumnus, according to Occidental’s Feb. 3 press release. Funds will also go toward equipment for a state-of-the-art genomics center, an additional boat for the marine biology program and general aesthetic improvements to the lab.

According to Moore Lab Director John McCormack, who played a large role in applying for the grants, the building currently houses the largest biodiversity collection of Mexican birds in the world. Robert T. Moore, a businessman and ornithologist who also funded the construction of Moore Lab and its accompanying endowment, bestowed this unique collection upon Occidental in 1951. It had previously been housed in his residence in Pasadena.

“[The collection is] a global resource that we have the honor of taking care of,” Biology Professor Elizabeth Braker said. “We need to make sure it’s being taken care of in a state-of-the-art facility.”

Part of the planned changes in Moore include purchasing new cases for the collection’s bird specimens. A $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will fund the purchase. This initial grant, awarded June 2014, inspired McCormack to apply for additional grants to improve the lab itself.

Braker stressed that a great deal of student and faculty effort was put into the process of applying for these grants. Students and faculty who work in the lab gathered the data that served as the basis for the scientific proposals, while administrators worked directly with the foundations to secure the funding.

“It sounds so easy, like ‘Oh, someone dropped $1.8 million,'” Braker said. “But it’s because people have worked really hard to make that happen.”

Renovations will begin this summer at the very earliest, according to McCormack. However, it is highly unlikely that such will be the case, as those involved in planning the renovations are still in the design phase, exploring their options and determining what specifically would best serve the needs of the department. It is possible that the square footage of the Moore Lab building itself will be expanded, but, at the very least, the interior will be remodeled.

“I think one of the most fun parts is going to be improving the aesthetics of this place,” McCormack said. “Although it has a vintage charm to it, it definitely has not changed much since the 1950s.”

Aesthetic renovations will include improved displays with taxidermy mounts that will serve an educational purpose. McCormack hopes that these displays will appeal to both the public and to members of the Occidental community.

The physical remodeling process will shut down Moore Lab for about a year, and the bird collection will be placed in storage temporarily. McCormack says that this will not interrupt their work — although they will not be able to conduct new research during this time, they will still be able to analyze data previously gathered from the specimens. The students and faculty that use the building’s labs and offices will have to work elsewhere while the renovations take place.

McCormack believes that the renovation will be well worth the wait, culminating in a world-class genomics center that he feels will complement their biodiversity collection.

“[The genomics center] is going to allow us to delve into the genomes of these specimens in a way that is really only happening at a few universities in the world,” McCormack said.

The genomics lab will also provide students with research opportunities that small liberal arts colleges like Occidental rarely offer. Such hands-on research experience, according to Braker, gives students an edge when searching for employment or applying to graduate school.

Biology student Matt Weiser (sophomore) looks forward to having a genomics lab on campus and feels that it will improve the overall reputation of Occidental’s science program and aid in attracting prospective students to the school.

“I can’t tell you off the top of my head other [small liberal arts colleges] that have a genomics lab,” Weiser said. “That seems like a very big research institution-y thing to have.”


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