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New lab open in Hygienics Lab

BY ALYSSA GUZMAN | SEPTEMBER 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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A center for the Advancement of Laboratory Sciences was added to the Iowa Hygienic Laboratory Tuesday.

The lab allows teachers, students, and community members to experience hands-on scientific learning.

“The dream was that we would build out a space that offers hands-on education,” said Pat Blake, the strategic communications director for the Hygienic Lab. “It’s taken four years to secure the funding and is funded by all of Iowa. The space was built on behalf of Iowa and for Iowans.”

Funding was provided by the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, the city of Coralville, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, and the University of Iowa.

The state of Iowa also contributed $1 million of the $2.4 million for the new lab portion.

Blake said every state has at least one public-health lab in which people can be tested for infectious diseases.

Typically, environmental testing for water contamination and other such things is also provided.

The Hygienic Lab provides a conference center that seats 150 people, two negative-pressure biosafety level-3 laboratories, and an environmental chemistry suite.

In addition, a clinical lab on the upper level is used for the state of Iowa to conduct clinical and environmental tests. While that space is not open to the public, the training lab downstairs is.

“The training lab provides hands on experiments, demonstrations, and presentations,” Blake said.

Blake said teachers, students, and community members are all welcome to work in the lab and conduct studies or even hold meetings.

Thus far, the lab that is open to the public has standard scientific science equipment such as hot plates, pH meters, water baths, bio safety cabinets, chemical fume hoods, and incubators.

“We hope to collaborate with groups on grant opportunities for more equipment in the lab that’s open to the public,” said Drew Fayram, the coordinator of the center for the advancement of laboratory science.

Junior volunteers from neighboring hospitals have utilized the community lab; it has also been used for food safety labs, and kids camps where elementary to high-school students were able to conduct labs related to a zombie apocalypse.

In the future, the institute has plans to invite students from the University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College to experience the hands-on scientific learning.

However, some students have already begun their scientific experiences through the lab’s student mentorship program, which is available to Iowa’s junior-high and high-school science students.

The training lab was designed for scientific discovery and other educational opportunities.

Thus far, no other laboratory in Iowa allows educators, students, and community members to work together in a laboratory setting that is dedicated to public health and environmental stewardship.

Aaron Wills, 15, and Isaac Moeller, 14, who attend Central Lee High School, have competed in science fairs since sixth grade.

Last year, their eighth-grade project focused on testing water quality specific to nitrates in well water. Once they heard about the new lab, they thought it would make their project stronger.

The two of them came to visit the lab and applied for a grant.

Aaron said they were picked from about 80 different projects.

“[It] helps a lot,” he said. “We can test samples more thoroughly, and if you want to continue a science career, it helps with a strong future.”


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