BOOTHBAY, Maine — Private donors, federal grants and the generosity of Maine taxpayers were hailed Friday as catalysts behind the Bigelow Laboratory’s completion of its new Center for Blue Biotechnology.
As the first of three phases of construction that will culminate in Bigelow’s Ocean Science and Education Campus, the center represents a new era for the lab, which for the past 37 years has been immersed in the study of ocean sciences, according to Graham Shimmield, its executive director.
The new building will allow Bigelow to expand its mission of researching ocean sciences and allow it to more than double the size of its work force.
“This is a great day for us,” said Shimmield to a couple hundred supporters and employees during a champagne-and-appetizers ceremony Friday. “This is about a team effort that has brought us this far, but this far is only one-third of the way.”
For more than three decades, Bigelow has been housed in a collection of buildings in Boothbay Harbor that it leases from the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the completion of one phase of a project to build a new headquarters and education center.
Still under construction are two more wings, including the Center for Ocean Biogeochemistry and Climate Change and the Center for Ocean Health — which includes a dock and shore facilities — both of which are scheduled for completion in 2012. Among the new initiatives made possible by the expansion is an educational component that will include public forums and a live-in research program for Colby College students.
The Center for Blue Biotechnology houses the Single Cell Genomics Center, a facility for DNA research on microbial cells from the environment; the Provasoli-Guillard National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota, which is one of the world’s first combined collections of marine algae, bacteria, archaea and viruses; the J.J. MacIsaac Facility for Aquatic Cytometry, a state-of-the-art cytometry lab; and the Geomicrobiology Research Laboratory.
To many, those programs sound as if they’re named in a foreign language, but scientists from all over the world — and who travel all over the world for their research — are based there, studying at the cellular and molecular levels.
Bigelow currently has about 65 researchers on staff and hopes to expand that number to more than 200 within a few years. Among its missions are exploring how the ocean and its creatures affect climate change; exploring ways to harness the power of marine organisms; and addressing the deterioration of the world’s oceans.
Funding for the new campus comes from a variety of sources, including more than $9 million from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and $1.5 million from Congress. However, Shimmield said the catalyst was a bond approved by Maine voters in November 2008 to create the $53 million Maine Technology Asset Fund, which awarded Bigelow $4.5 million in seed money in 2009. Betsy Biemann, president of the Maine Technology Institute, which administers the fund, said the Bigelow project was one of more than 130 applicants for the money, 35 of which were successful.
“What an innovative achievement this is,” said Biemann. “They’ve not only created high-paying, desirable jobs for scientists, but they’re supporting the local economic region.”
According to a press release, Bigelow’s operations are forecasted to pump more than $57 million into the local economy in the coming years. Biemann said another benefit is that the new Bigelow campus will serve as an example for aspiring scientists.
“The expansion of this lab helps to inspire our young people,” she said. “We want all of our young people in this state to have this kind of opportunity.”
Boothbay Town Manager Jim Chaousis said the expansion will enhance the town and the coastal region.
“As scientists from all over the world start to live here, they’re going to fall in love with this area,” he said. “They’re going to want to live here and Boothbay is going to grow exponentially.”
David Coit, chairman of Bigelow’s board of trustees, made reference to Maine’s dead-last ranking for its business climate, according to a recent article in Forbes Magazine.
“I just wish Forbes Magazine were here to see this today,” he said. “I’d like to talk to them.”