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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU's new arid lands building: A research and teaching facility for the new millennium

LAS CRUCES - A home in which every room is a kitchen would be a lot more complicated and expensive to build than an ordinary home.

That's the analogy New Mexico State University's Vice President for Research Gary Cunningham gives when comparing regular classrooms to the complex laboratory space in the university's new Center for Sustainable Development of Arid Lands.

Joint state and federal funding made the $22 million project possible, said John Owens, NMSU's executive vice president.

"We had a lot of help with this building in terms of the New Mexico congressional delegation. Congressman Joe Skeen was especially helpful as was Senator Pete Domenici," he said. "In the New Mexico Legislature, strong support was provided by then Representative G.X. McSherry and Senator Fernando Macias as well as many others."

Construction of the state-of-the-art teaching, laboratory and research facility, located at the corner of College Drive and Knox Street, is on track for completion in April.

"There are lots of utilities like plumbing, gas, electricity and purified water," Cunningham said. "Essentially every workstation in the building--whether it be a classroom or a laboratory--is going to be Internet accessible."

A solid concrete structure in the laboratory wing will keep sensitive instruments from vibrating.

Safety features are important as well, particularly an elaborate air handling system to usher out exhaust fumes and ensure a healthy air supply, Cunningham said.

But when faculty start moving in over the summer and students arrive for science classes in the fall, the emphasis won't be on the intricate infrastructure but rather the function of this multiuse facility.

"The new building will fulfill the needs of students on the NMSU campus and the needs of the people of New Mexico, the region and maybe, indeed, the world by having a first-rate research facility in which to study problems associated with arid lands, especially as they relate to agricultural production systems," Owens said.

Offices for three departments will be housed in the building's east wing.

The first floor of the building's south wing will include large, undergraduate teaching laboratories for everything from botany to zoology courses and a plant science teaching lab for NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. This lab will house a pest diagnostic service and serve as a teaching facility for insect, plant and weed diagnostics.

The south wing also will be home to graduate teaching and research laboratories on the second and third floors.

Cunningham said the teaching labs were designed for maximum use by different disciplines. Separate preparation rooms for each laboratory mean there will be no downtime between classes.

The research laboratories also were designed to be flexible. "The idea was to design a general lab that could be used by lots of different people in different ways," Cunningham said. "They are large, open labs, so there'll be a lot of opportunity for people to interact and exchange ideas and see complementary aspects of their research."

The labs will last, too. "We've tried to design the laboratories so that they can be adapted as techniques and programs change over the years," he said. "Some laboratory facilities around the country have only a useful life of about 25 to 30 years, but we've built this one for the next 100 years."

In addition to the more general, flexible labs, the building's one-floor, west wing has been constructed for special uses, including an electron microscope facility and a quarantine laboratory for insects.

"We can bring in exotic insects that we don't want to let out into the environment and work with them in this confined facility," Cunningham explained.

In this type of biological control research, scientists test how exotic insect species can be used to control other plants and insects that damage crops and orchards. These species need to be isolated until their usefulness and effects in the environment can be determined.

To see how the construction project is proceeding, visit the World Wide Web site at http://www.cahe.nmsu.edu/intranet/csdal/ to view time-progression photos.