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Paul Wright and Gray Davis Mechanical engineering professor Paul Wright explains to Governor Gray Davis how tiny networked "smart motes" could save firefighters' lives. (Bonnie Powell photos)

A "field of dreams" for health sciences

Build it and they will come, says Gov. Gray Davis at groundbreaking for new facility that's already luring the nation's top researchers

| 30 May 2003

Stanley slideshow  Groundbreaking Slide Show: "Smart motes" and shovels

The birth of the new Stanley facility

• Background on the new Berkeley bioscience and bioengineering research building

• FACTS: More about the location, design, and construction schedule

•  Watch panel discussion on health sciences for the 21st century

•  Watch speeches by Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl, Robert Tjian, Richard Atkinson, and Gray Davis

•  ... and the governor, chancellor, and president pick up shovels

The three, dark-suited men - two sporting ill-fitting blue hard hats - stared briefly at the mound of dirt before them, then happily stabbed their shovels into the dark-brown earth. As they flung the soil to one side, the admiring crowd cheered. Construction of the new Stanley Biosciences and Bioengineering Facility had officially begun.

Though groundbreaking ceremonies are often stodgy affairs, the one California Gov. Gray Davis, UC President Richard Atkinson, and Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl participated in on Friday, May 30 has special significance, not only for the Berkeley campus, but for California and the world as well.

The $162.3-million, 285,000-square-foot facility will be home to a new brand of cutting-edge interdisciplinary research. Here, scientists in structural biology, bioengineering, chemical biology, computational biology, magnetic imaging, tissue engineering and other disciplines will work side by side to solve some of humanity's most vexing health issues.

The state has contributed $53.1 million to the new building from seismic retrofit funds and from the California Institutes for Science and Innovation (Cal-ISI) program developed by Davis in 2000. Campus funds and private support will make up the rest. Among Cal-ISI's four UC centers are the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research, or QB3, and the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS). When completed in 2006, the new Stanley facility will house all of QB3's researchers, as well as labs for the College of Engineering's bioengineering department and CITRIS, which also has space in the recently renovated Hearst Memorial Mining Building.

UC Berkeley welcomed Davis to campus with a brief presentation of research in progress at CITRIS. In one of the Hearst building's labs, Dave Sprague of the City of Berkeley Fire Department breathed through a gas mask in full protective fire gear as CITRIS researcher and mechanical engineering professor Paul Wright showed Davis a tiny sensor no bigger than a matchbox. These sensors, called "smart motes," are able to form ad-hoc wireless networks that can monitor, among other things, a building's occupancy and temperature. Wright's disaster-response project is designed to prevent tragedies such as the loss of communication among World Trade Center rescue teams. With a mote-networked building and firefighters wearing additional motes and equipment, a fire chief could track their progress and pulse rate, oxygen levels, and other vital signs on a laptop.

"This is really big stuff - technology like this can enhance productivity and create new jobs, as well as save lives," said Davis as he held the tiny sensor.

A few minutes later, standing outside at a podium against a backdrop of rubble and bulldozers, the governor made clear his personal commitment to the Cal-ISI centers. "I myself am not going to discover a cure for AIDS, cancer, or Alzheimer's," he said. "But I am determined to create and support a world-class environment in which scientists will make those discoveries."

In his address, Davis likened the construction of the Stanley facility - and the groundbreaking bioscience and bioengineering research that will take place there - to the creation of Silicon Valley. He recalled discussing with Atkinson a few years ago how they might replicate the legendary cradle of computer technology, and take advantage of similar "synergy and commercial benefits" resulting from a coalition of academic ideas and entrepreneurs like the one on the Peninsula that has provided the world with an enormous amount of convenience and productivity.

"Out of this building will come new ideas, new industries, and much-needed medical cures," Davis said. "And as suggested in the movie 'Field of Dreams,' if we build it they will come. Berkeley has already recruited professors from Yale and MIT because of this exciting program. And when it's built, even more will come."

Davis added that the initiative's potential to cure disease affects him on a personal level, having witnessed his mother-in-law's slow and painful death from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

The building and the work that goes on inside will also reaffirm Berkeley's spot on the world's academic map, said Robert Tjian, director of the campus's Health Sciences Initiative, a campuswide program to spur innovation between the biological and physical sciences. (To learn more about the Health Sciences Initiative's mission, goals, and gift opportunities, visit the website.)

"If Berkeley is to stay at the forefront of scientific research, then we need to develop bold new approaches," he said. "Our students are pushing us toward what the future is going to be, and this building is a big step toward realizing that future."