Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Synapse Review: Sir David Attenborough opens the Life Sciences Building by Daisy Dunne

On my first visit to Bristol’s Biological Sciences School back in 2011, I was marched across campus to stare at a giant empty crater on the corner of Tyndall Avenue, which I was assured would soon become the most impressive building the university has ever attempted to construct. Now, some three years later, the end result of the £54 million project is staggering – and who better to welcome in the new build than Biology’s biggest living legend, Sir David Attenborough.

At just gone 11am on Monday, I waited excitedly with an assortment of 200 distinguished guests, including senior lecturers and the city’s Mayor, for the esteemed naturalist and wildlife broadcaster to arrive and officially open Bristol’s new world-class Life Sciences Building. The university’s Vice-chancellor Professor Sir Eric Thomas welcomed us all before the now retired Vice-chancellor Professor David Clarke, who oversaw the building’s construction, regaled us with stories of some of the project’s difficulties – including the discovery of ancient gun powder under the old physics workroom that occupied the site.
Soon after, Sir David took to the microphone to deliver a compelling and personal speech, centralised around the importance of understanding the Natural Sciences to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. He stressed:
“The only way we will deal with the problems on this planet of ours that we have created is to understand what goes on… nothing, nothing could be more important in the area of scholarship than this.”
“Unless we understand the very systems on which we live, the food we eat, the air we breathe, unless we understand how our world affects us, we’ll be in real trouble.”
What’s more, he highlighted the importance of bridging the gap between science and the wider community, to make them realise “how important it is for us to do something”.

In addition to this passionate message, he also spoke of “the joy, resonance and delight” that can be conjured from the natural world, adding “understanding the natural sciences will give you joy for the rest of your lives, it brought great joy to me.”   
To finish, he professed: “I’m proud to be a freeman of this great city and also to hold an honorary degree from this very, very distinguished university”, before unveiling the building’s new plaque and declaring the building officially open.

After Sir David’s awe-inspiring speech, guests were given tours around the building to see some of the breath-taking features – including a 20 metre living wall, which houses 11 different species of plant as well as roosting spots for birds and bats. Also, guests visited the GroDome, a state-of-the-art tropical greenhouse that resides on top of the 13,500 square metre building.
For me, the most impressive aspect of the building is the five-storey glass laboratory wing, which supports ground breaking research from a multitude of different disciplines – from bat bioacoustics studies to virtual-led palaeontology. 
The new Genomics Facility is set to transform the university’s world class study into understanding the evolution and mapping of entire genomes. Professor Keith Edwards, a cereal genomics expert from the School of Biological Sciences, says:

"From the outset the new building was designed to have a state of the art genomics facility; including two next generation sequencers and a range of genotyping and robotic platforms. The new laboratories have been designed to minimise sample to sample contamination via the use of controlled air flow between rooms operating at different pressures.”

Image Credit: Nick Smith | University of Bristol