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Princeton University
 

 

Fact Sheet for Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and the Carl Icahn Laboratory

History

  • The University announced plans to create a genomics institute in January 1999 and named Shirley M. Tilghman, who was then the Howard A. Prior Professor of the Life Sciences, as its director.

  • In July 1999, Princeton graduate Peter B. Lewis gave the University $55 million, of which $35 million was directed toward establishing an endowment to support a fellows program at the genomics institute. Lewis, a member of the class of 1955, is chairman and CEO of the Progressive Corporation, one of the nation's largest auto insurers. He subsequently gave an additional $4.5 million for laboratory infrastructure.

  • The institute is named the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics in honor of Lewis, who has served Princeton as a trustee, and Paul Sigler, a friend and classmate who was one of the world's leading structural biologists. Sigler, who was the Henry Ford II Professor of Molecular Biophysics at Yale, died in 2000.

  • In October 1999, the Icahn Family Foundation donated $20 million to support the construction of the Carl Icahn Laboratory, which houses the genomics institute. Carl Icahn is chairman of his own investment firm, Icahn Associates, and is a member of the class of 1957.

  • After Tilghman became president of the University, a faculty committee selected genetics pioneer David Botstein to succeed her as director of the institute. Botstein, whose appointment begins in July 2003, is currently the Stanford Ascherman, M.D., Professor of Genetics at Stanford University. Professor of molecular biology James Broach is acting director of the institute.

  • The University selected Rafael Viñoly, one of the world's leading architects, to design the Icahn Lab. Construction began in March 2001, and administrators and scientists began moving into the building in January 2003.

Scientific Program

The Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics has a mandate to develop new approaches to studying and teaching biology now that the task of sequencing the genomes of humans and many other organisms has been completed. Institute scientists focus on analyzing these enormous amounts of data and extracting from them underlying principles that govern how biological systems organize themselves.

One institute scientist, for example, is developing computing techniques for scanning whole genomes and predicting which proteins are likely to interact with each other. Another is creating computer models that simulate how a group of initially identical cells develops into a complex organ.

This effort to achieve an integrated, systems-level understanding of organisms requires a high degree of collaboration between academic disciplines that traditionally have had only modest interactions. The institute brings under one roof scientists from such fields as molecular biology, physics, chemistry, chemical engineering and computer science. It is designed, both in its physical space and intellectual agenda, to foster collaborations that will grow into an entirely new approach to biology.

The interdisciplinary agenda also demands a new approach to teaching. Students who are exposed early on to ideas and techniques that cut across the conventional disciplines will be better prepared to understand and participate in the science of the post-genomic era. Scientists at the institute are developing courses and project-oriented lab classes that will complement, but not replace the traditional curriculum in biology.

The institute is expected to be home to a total of 12 to 15 research groups, each led by a faculty member who has a joint appointment with one of the standing departments in science and engineering. Currently six scientists, in addition to Botstein, have been appointed to the institute. The rest of the appointments are expected to be made over the next few years. When all the research groups are in place, a total of 125 to 150 people -- including graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, research staff and administrators -- are expected to occupy the building.

An important part of the research group will be five Lewis-Sigler Fellows -- young researchers who recently received their Ph.D.s and who show exceptional promise. These fellows will be given generous funding to start a small lab and to work without the pressure of raising grant money. They also will be involved in teaching.

Because of its focus on basic science, the institute will have very little applied research. Institute scientists generally will not, for example, be looking for treatments for specific diseases. Nonetheless, research at the institute is expected to yield precisely the kind of insights that scientists at medical schools and commercial enterprises will need to make substantial progress in combating disease. Institute scientists will not conduct experiments in cloning.

The Building

The Carl Icahn Laboratory is a 98,000-square-foot building designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects PC. The building's office space and 35,000 square feet of laboratories form an L-shaped footprint between Washington Road and the University playing fields. A curved, two-story wall of glass sweeps across the two tips of the L, creating a large atrium in the bend. The atrium provides a rich variety of common spaces and a dramatic expression of the institute's focus on fostering collaboration. The building also contains a 64-seat auditorium, as well as several conference/class rooms and teaching labs.

The building was constructed at a cost of $500 per square foot, which reflects a major investment in creating state-of-the-art labs with the high degree of flexibility needed for pioneering a rapidly evolving area of science.

All the lab spaces, for example, are designed so they can easily be set up to accommodate the needs of scientists of practically any discipline, from fume hoods for chemists to vibration-free benches for physicists. A key element in this flexibility is the addition of a generous utility space above each of the building's two stories. While the ceiling height in the labs is 12 feet, the overall height of each floor is 20 feet. Most of that extra space above the ceiling can be accessed by catwalks to allow easy reconfiguration of utilities.

In addition, the interior walls are built from modular units that can be rearranged without demolition. The lab benches as well as the laboratory desk systems also are highly adjustable and moveable.

Beyond the labs themselves, the building's overall design and common spaces are carefully conceived to help break down the natural barriers between conventional scientific disciplines. The offices of faculty members, for example, are not adjacent to each scientist's lab space, as is often the case in large labs. Instead, the offices are grouped in their own blocks of space, requiring people to walk back and forth from lab to office and facilitating chance interactions between faculty members.

Among the unique common areas in the atrium is a sculpture by architect Frank Gehry. The undulating metal-clad wood structure houses a conference room. Gehry originally built the structure as a model for a house that Lewis commissioned him to design.

The Icahn Lab is constructed of a structural steel frame covered with precast concrete and glass. The atrium's south-west-facing glass wall is built entirely without the conventional mullions that normally hold glass in place. Instead, the glass is sealed with an innovative type of glazing and secured in place by a system of vertical steel cables mounted to the interior side of the glass.

Another distinctive feature is a row of 31 vertical louvers, 40-feet tall, that shade the atrium from outside the glass wall. The louvers, constructed of painted aluminum, turn in time with the sun to maximize the shade. A computerized timer controls the movement and adjusts for the changing seasons. Lattice-like bands of aluminum in the louvers cast a woven shadow on the floor that evokes the double-helix structure of DNA.

The Icahn Lab completes an important element in the University's master plan by marking the edge of an ellipse that defines the southernmost boundary of the main part of campus. To the southwest of the lab, two dormitories define the rest of the edge of the ellipse. A band of metal fascia at the top of the Icahn Lab's louvers matches the height of key architectural elements at the top of the dorms, creating a clear continuity between the three buildings. Two second-story conference rooms, cantilevered over the building's main entrances, point along the edge of the ellipse and further define the exterior space.

The building already has begun to draw a large number of visitors as well as campus and outside groups that have used the rooms and common spaces for meetings and conferences. A number of undergraduate classes are held in the building.

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