By Paige Wilson, Photo by Paige Wilson
As I entered what used to be a rather unassuming floor of Mudd, I was greeted by light shining through glass double doors emblazoned with “Duvall Laboratory'' and “Barnhart Laboratory.” Over the past two years, three new lab spaces on the seventh floor have been renovated for new faculty in the department—one in Fairchild for Dr. Maria Tosches and two in Mudd for Drs. Laura Duvall and Erin Barnhart. The Duvall and Barnhart labs share a space with no clear demarcation where one lab begins and the other ends. This fluidity fosters an atmosphere where lab members are free to interact throughout the day. When I entered, several lab members were chatting comfortably next to a computer.
Dr. Duvall gave me a tour of the new lab space. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. Since her lab studies mosquito behavior, the lab requires a special arthropod containment facility. To enter the mosquito containment room, you have to pass through two doors and a mosquito-optimized booby trap—an air curtain. Once inside, there is another small lab space and a series of climate-controlled rooms where mosquitoes are sorted and subjected to behavioral tests. We went inside the mosquito cultivation room, which is kept at 80% humidity and about 82 degrees. It felt like the muggiest, warmest day of a New York City summer. Along the walls are metal shelves with various liquid-filled containers and netted boxes teeming with mosquitos in different developmental stages.
Dr. Duvall explains that the containment room is required to be white so that if a mosquito goes rogue it can more easily be spotted. The main lab space outside didn’t need to be, but engineers didn’t catch this distinction, so the entire lab space ended up all white. Even pipes that are usually left exposed are covered so that the ceiling is completely white, giving the space an industrial-chic look. A happy accident, in my opinion, because it makes the space airy and light; modern, but not cold.
On the opposite end of the main shared lab space, the Barnhart lab has their microscope room. In a complete aesthetic reversal, the microscope room is totally black. The walls and all the curtains are pitch black. The only light in the room was coming from a computer screen, where a graduate student was busy imaging. I approached, drawn to the fiery ladder-like structures on the screen, and asked her what she was looking at. She explained that she is broadly interested in uncovering the role of intracellular calcium fluctuations in neurotransmission. At the moment, she was imaging calcium indicators in different cells of the Drosophila visual system. It seemed fitting to me that cells of the visual system would be so eye-catchingly beautiful.
Down the hall, in Fairchild, is the Tosches lab, which is newly renovated in the same clean, modern fashion as the Barnhart and Duvall labs. I met their lab manager, Jamie, in the lab’s work space, where each member has their own desk. In the short amount of time since moving in, lab members have already infused their space with personality and color. The profusion of knick-knacks, pictures, and houseplants are a testament to how at home they feel.
The Tosches lab is pioneering a new model system, the salamander Pleurodeles waltl, and across from the lab space with everyone’s desks you’ll find their salamander cultivation room. The facility houses tanks that contain all sizes and growth stages of salamanders. As you walk up to a tank, the green, spotted salamanders seem to greet you, as if poised for a treat. I was as struck by the salamanders as I was with the well-equipped space—growing up in the desert, I had never seen a salamander in real life and now I was in a room full of them!
In addition to the lab renovations, a new conference room was recently completed on the seventh floor of Mudd. During my tours I learned that every couple of months the Tosches, Duvall, Barnhart, and Abdus-Saboor (whose lab space is in the Jerome L. Greene Center) labs have a joint meeting in the new conference room. They have taken to calling themselves “The Quad.”
Seeing these labs and learning about the impressive work being done in them left me excited, almost giddy, like a new rotation student. It was clear that the renovation had been done with incredible attention to detail and consideration for the researchers and their science. It was exhilarating and satisfying to see the space reflect the caliber of research being conducted. Even more so how these renovations brought labs together and created a warm, collaborative atmosphere. Even though it was raining when I left, I walked out with a huge smile on my face.