Right across West Johnson Street from Union South lies a building that, to many, around campus, is shrouded in mystery. Although the Discovery Building has plenty of windows and is designed for collaboration, community and interaction, much of the research taking part in the building remains enigmatic to many. This is not because of an overabundance of secrecy at the Discovery Building, but more so a result of how sophisticated and specialized the research taking place there is. So what exactly is going on at the Discovery Building? Luckily for the Wisconsin Fellowship Class of 2019, we went to find out!
Completed in 2010, the Discovery Building is home to two research institutes: the private Morgridge Institute for Research and the public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (also known as WID). The building is managed by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) on behalf of all tenants. The first floor of the Discovery Building is designated as a public space called the Town Center. As you may already see, one of the main objectives of the Discovery Building is to encourage collaboration between different specialist individuals and groups. Having three organizations operating under one roof gives each of them more resources to accomplish their respective missions. When the Fellows visited last week, we saw this collaboration in action.
Beginning the tour on the main level gave us an opportunity to see the public space available at the Discovery Building. It is apparent that the building was created to invite outsiders in. Continuing downstairs, we needed to be scanned through the security doors that protect the intellectual property. Our first stop behind the doors is the Morgridge Fab Lab. The lab has a wide range of capabilities, including computer-aided design, 3D printing, microfluidics and fabrication. We learned that this fabrication lab works with many of the labs in the building to build prototypes based on their research.
We moved from the Fab Lab to meet our guides for the next portion of the tour. Our first stop here is the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (or CAVE). This large room, part of the Virtual Environments Group, “is a space and a place where scholars explore the connections among environment, technology, human action, experience, and visualization.” The CAVE is essentially a giant virtual reality space aimed to advance realistic, immersive, interactive virtual environments. CAVE is already being utilized by the School of Nursing for them to practice using medical technologies of the future in a virtual setting.
Next the Fellows ventured onto portions of the building that contained more familiar looking scientific instruments. Counter tops were covered with neatly organized test samples and shelves contained different colored solutions in vials. Undergraduates, graduates, and postdoctoral researchers were busy (even in the early evening) conducting biology experiments with highly advanced equipment. Some of the equipment, we learn, was fabricated right in the building to meet needs that were not met with off-the-shelf capabilities. One interesting tool for use by these chemists and biologists was a special microscope. The microscope is so advanced that it sits in a room by itself; a setup that took over a year to complete. The microscope sits on an adjustable table built to absorb even the most nuanced vibration, so when students are jumping around at Camp Randal, the microscope still captures its subject with perfect steadiness. Almost any atmosphere can be simulated inside the microscope’s environmental chamber thanks to adjustable temperature, humidity, pressure, lighting, and more. We learn that this can be used to observe biological matter’s interaction with a simulation of interstellar matter.
As we walked down the hallways, our guides gave us an overview of what the different labs were researching. We passed the Loewe Lab, a space that uses very powerful computers to study cell evolution. Another lab, the Newmark Lab, studies planaria (or worms for us lay-persons) for their regenerative properties. Walking past these incredible labs, we began to have an understanding of just how much incredible research and scientific advancement is taking place at the Discovery Building. Even after an hour of touring, we felt we had barely scratched the surface.
As a group of entrepreneurial-minded students, we very much appreciated the efforts of innovation taking place at the Discovery Building. It represents the type of collaboration Wisconsin is known for. We expect to see WARF, the Morgridge Institute for Research, and WID continue to make news and a difference in Wisconsin!