The 2020 fellowship class took a field trip just a few blocks west of Grainger for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Discovery Building. Opened in 2010 the building has been a pillar for research, innovation and collaboration in Madison.
While the Discovery Building refers to the facility, it houses two research institutes and a public space sharing a common goal of “supporting forward-thinking experimentation by exploring fundamental questions across many disciplines and inspiring new generations of scientific thinkers.” The Morgridge Institute for Research is a private, nonprofit research institute dedicated to improving human health and the public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery is a transdisciplinary research institute and part of UW-Madison.
We were fortunate to have two knowledgeable tour guides for our time at the Discovery Building: Ben Cox and Bekhzod (Bek) Khoshimov. Ben is a postdoc researcher in the medical engineering group working on collaborative projects to design engineering solutions to biomedical problems. Bek is a Ph.D. student working with assistant professor Jon Eckhardt to study university student entrepreneurship to ultimately improve entrepreneurship programs on campus.
In true behind-the-scenes fashion, we were escorted to the lower level behind security doors to begin our tour. To protect intellectual property, the majority of the building is restricted from public access except for the vibrant main floor dubbed the Town Center. We visited the Morgridge Fab Lab which works with investors to design various prototypes and new research tools from conception. This space is optimized for design with resources including CAD, 3D printing, microfluidics and fabrication. We also visited the Virtual Environments Group which is home to an impressive six-sided virtual reality CAVE. This lab explores the connections between environment, technology, and visualization through data analysis and 3D visualization with immersive technologies.
Continuing our tour we passed through the many research groups including the Thomson Lab for regenerative biology; the Core Computational Technology group that develops a cyberinfrastructure to provide high throughput computing resources; the Cantor Lab studying cellular metabolism and how it is influenced by environmental factors; and the Nowak Research group that focuses on signal processing, machine learning, optimization, and statistics. The upper floors where are designed for collaboration and community building with many shared spaces. There are spots for coffee and conversation, whiteboards lining the outside of open cubicles, an open-air balcony, and large staircases. Dan Olszewski shared that the bathrooms were intentionally placed on one side of the building in an effort to encourage organic interactions and sharing of ideas.
The Discovery Building is truly a unique asset for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The hypercollaborative design was fascinating from an entrepreneurship and innovating perspective. The thought and care put into the building design’s extends to the researchers housed in the facility through their fellowship program. This program brings in new academic excellence and novel ideas. This space takes advantage of the vast research talent but fosters collaboration in an incubator setting reminiscent of MIT’s Building 20.