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New Plant Conservation Science Center opens at Botanic Garden
Monday, September 21, 2009 Pioneer Press by Christopher Peterson
Walking into the ChicagoBotanic Garden's PlantConservationScienceCenter
in Glencoe is a little like instantly becoming a plant biologist. Visitors
might even be tempted to put on a lab coat.
Inside the 38,000-square-foot research facility, there is no
"behind the scenes." Every inner working is on display for the
Think "JurassicPark" -- only
instead of hatching baby raptors, the scientists inside are tinkering with
The center opens Sept. 23 after more than a year of construction
The laboratories inside are complete with beakers, Petri dishes,
seed banks and researchers, all in plain sight of the center's visitors.
"There's no place for my scientists to hide," joked Greg
Mueller, vice president of science and academic programs for the Botanic
Garden. "That physical interaction, and seeing what's going on, is an
Each of the building's nine labs focuses on a different aspect of
plant conservation, with the ultimate purpose of getting information out to the
For example, the roof-top gardens were designed to test how native
plants might grow in various soil depths.
By doing so, scientists hope to determine the most efficient and
effective ways to make use of green roof space.
Already, building designers are keeping a close eye on what the
center finds out, Mueller said.
The researchers expect to watch some of their projects dry up
before visitors' eyes, but that's just science, Mueller said.
"If we haven't (failed at times), we haven't pushed the
envelope enough," he said.
In another section of the center, researchers have been collecting
seeds from 1,500 native species throughout the Midwest.
The seeds are stored in a freezer, where they can survive for 200 years.
The idea is to learn how they grow and determine the genetic
variations of a plant from one location to another.
And if an area under observation becomes imperiled, the center
dispatches workers to replenish it with the seeds they collected.
Even the actual building is an experiment in conservation. The PlantConservationScienceCenter
earned a "gold" rating for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental
Design," or LEED certification.
Complete with solar panels -- which provide up to 7 percent the
building's power -- the center aims to be as energy-efficient as possible.
The building is heated and cooled via a system of floor tubing
that pipes in water from outside, and the ceilings are slightly sloped to
redirect sunlight where its needed indoors.
In addition, the building sits atop 4-foot pillars to reduce its
physical footprint below.
The facility cost $50.9 million, including a $10 million endowment.
It was funded mostly through grants and private contributions.
In return, the center hosts interns and graduate students earning
Master's and Doctorate degrees, as well as professional researchers.