Posts in category JCVI

Building the World’s First Net-Zero Energy Lab [video]

Building the World’s First Net-Zero Energy Lab

And see the construction in time-lapes.

The 2014 Summer Internship Application is Open and Announcing the Genomics Scholar Program

The 2014 Summer Internship Application is now open.   Last summer, we hosted 49 interns from a pool of 424 applicants. They presented their research in the First Annual Summer Internship Poster Sessions held in San Diego and Rockville. The posters were judged by a team of volunteer JCVI scientists and the poster sessions were open to all employees, interns and their guests to share what great work they all participated in this summer.

 

 

2013 Intern Poster Session

2013 Intern Poster Session

We are also excited to announce the new Genomics Scholar Program beginning this summer and also accepting applications.  The Genomic Scholar Program (GSP) is a targeted research experience program to community college students in Rockville. Our program incorporates multiple avenues of support for students through the research experience with the Principal Investigators as mentors, and supplemental professional development provided by the JCVI.  Additionally, selected students will have the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research conferences.

The GSP is supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under award number R25DK098111.

Thule, Greenland – Day One

Arrived at Thule, Greenland after a 5 hr flight from Copenhagen.  It was pretty interesting seeing a long line of people all getting on a flight that was headed to a part of the world that usually has less than 600 people there at any given time.  Arrival was pretty straightforward, no jetway, no customs, no LCD screens telling you where to pick up your bag.  Just a few military personnel checking your documents to ensure that you have the approval from the Danish government and USAF to be on base.  First impression getting off the plane…it’s cold.  Not as cold as I expected it to be but it was just 90 degrees F when I left home a few days ago.  Today’s high was 39 degrees F.  Standing in the sun it’s not so bad but when the wind starts blowing it turns into a recipe for chapped lips and windburn.  Oh and did I mention the massive mosquitos here?  Not much wildlife in this part of the world but the mosquitos outnumbers the vertebrates probably a million to one.  They are also VERY aggressive; they even swarmed the trucks while we were driving around the base.  We were shown our living quarters, which were very nice, kind of reminded me of living in the dorms during undergrad.  There are individual rooms and a shared bathroom on each floor.  We toured the various sites that our collaborator Slava Epstein already pointed out as good sampling sites that vary in vegetation and proximity to water.  The land here is quite desolate, not much green, mostly moss and small shrubs growing.  Traditional trees are nonexistent but “ground trees” are actually common.  They are trees that grow outward on the grass and not upward.  The rest resembles pictures taken by the mars rover.  As the day goes by I noticed the sun was circling and I came to the realization that the typical artic summer was happening right in front of me.  The sun literally circles and will not go down until around September.  It was quite odd, getting in bed at midnight and seeing the sun still in the sky.  Tomorrow will be more interesting since we will be going further away from base to sample additional areas. 

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Thule, Greenland – Day Three

Day three started with me missing breakfast. It seems that folks around here only eat breakfast between 5am and 8am. Today was a very rough day for sampling.  About an hour drive to the area near the site, about a three-mile hike to one spot another half-mile hike to another spot followed by the three and a half mile hike back to the truck. We sampled “rich” soil and “rich” soil from a lake. These two sites were sampled and categorized as “rich” due to the abundance of vegetation around and near the sites. The area surrounding Thule is very desolate so I can imagine the plants have a hard enough time growing.  It would be very interesting to see what microbes are present in these two sites to allow such vegetation to grow; even more interesting to see how water affects the microbial population. Samples were frozen once we got back to the on site lab. A small portion was saturated with AllProtect to ensure preservation of RNA for transcriptomics analysis.

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The day ended with a lecture from another NSF grant recipient to install a telescope on the Greenlandic ice cap. It was an interesting idea to coordinate radio imaging from other telescopes around the world to look at quantum singularities that were very far away. After speaking to some of the other scientists here I found out that our group, which includes myself and our collaborators Slava Epstein and Dawoon Jung, were the ONLY Microbiologists on the base. Everyone else was either a Geologist, Environmental Scientist, Astronomer, or Meteorologist. It was great to hear about everyone else’s projects.

Building a Solid Foundation

The JCVI La Jolla construction site has been busy since earthwork began in 2011.  After grading the site to specified levels, a detailed excavation began to make room for the structural concrete footings, supporting slabs, and underground utilities.  With all of the holes in just the right place, crews began installing steel rebar to provide reinforcement for the large structural footings which will eventually carry the building’s weight.  Once the steel had been placed, it was inspected and filled with concrete.  The largest structural footing was so large that it took 45 concrete trucks to fill the hole!

Concrete wasn’t the only thing being placed under the building.  Of the many sustainable strategies included in the building’s design, two of these systems require large underground water tanks to operate.   The first is a rainwater harvesting system which will collect precipitation from the building roof and site.  Three tanks, totaling 90,000 gallons, collect the water so that it can be treated and then reused for toilets and irrigation.  This system will reduce the building’s potable water demand by 70% annually. Pictured here is a 5,000 gallon fiberglass tank being lowered into position.

5500 gallon rainwater storage tank is lowered into place

To become a net-zero building it is critical that electrical demands are minimized.  The new JCVI La Jolla building is being designed with an ultra-efficient mechanical system to help reduce the building’s energy profile.  At the core of this design are two 25,000 gallon thermal energy storage (TES) tanks.  These tanks will store both warm and cool water which will be used to either heat or cool the building depending on the building’s internal temperatures.  Using water to move heat in and out of the building uses 87% less energy than using air and allows the mechanical systems to operate at much higher energy efficiencies than standard building systems.

Single TES tank arrives by tractor trailer

Two 25,000 gallon TES tanks being installed

Most of the building structure is made with concrete and, after the underground work was complete, McCarthy wasted no time in constructing the vertical support walls.  The walls are architectural concrete because they are designed to complement the other materials such as wood that will make up the building’s exterior.  Using information from the concrete mock-ups (See Moving Dirt at JCVI La Jolla) the team selected a 30% fly-ash concrete mix.  Fly ash is a waste material from coal-fired power plants that lowers the amount of cement needed to make concrete, thus both lowers the energy and carbon dioxide emissions of manufacture and increases the overall volume of recycled content used in building.

Constructing architectural concrete is akin to making art.  Huge forms are built with meticulous detail using special materials, fastening methodologies, and custom routed grooves to create the desired finish.  Those forms are filled with steel rebar, filled with concrete at lightning speed, and then stripped (formwork is removed) at just the right time to produce the final product.  The work is even more challenging given the complex geometries of the building and the performance characteristics of using a 30% fly-ash concrete mix.

 

Erected concrete forms

As of September 2012, the team has almost completed the parking garage and podium deck upon which the building structure will sit. Concrete work will continue through the fall and is expected to complete in early 2013.

 

Mock-up of a single office window at the building’s exterior.

Water testing the window system

Biowalk of Fame

There is a new “Biowalk of Fame” in Maryland, and our own Craig Venter was one of the first honorees receiving a plaque, which is there for all to see as you stroll through lovely Silver Spring.

Etching of Dr. J. Craig Venter on Biowalk of Fame

Etching of Dr. J. Craig Venter on Biowalk of Fame

Other honorees include Dr. Martin Rodbell and Ben Carson. The event to honor the awardees was on April 22, which also it happens to be Earth Day. Although it rained heavily throughout the event, there were a large number of people in attendance including several local government officials including Council member Valerie Ervin and Chairman Ike Leggett. Dr Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics, emceed the event.

Biowalk of Fame tour sign

Biowalk of Fame tour sign

The idea behind the BioWall and the Biowalk is very innovative. The Wall is a live movie like screen that allows videos from students and the public that relate to science to be continuously aired. A student observing a paramecium under the microscope for example can mail the clip in to United Therapeutics, and it will be available for all to see. The Biowalk also has plaques dedicated to those who have made the most outstanding contributions to the State of Maryland in the sciences – hence Craig.

Dr. J. Craig Venter's plaque on the Biowalk of Fame

Dr. J. Craig Venter's plaque on the Biowalk of Fame

Biowalk of Fame

Biowalk of Fame

The take home message is, if you are wondering through Silver Spring do not be surprised if you see Craig’s name on a plaque on 1040 Spring Street. Congratulations!

Moving dirt at JCVI La Jolla

After celebrating the ground breaking of JCVI La Jolla, McCarthy Building Companies immediately got to work preparing the land for construction.  First the crew set up a work area to house the staff and equipment needed for the project.  The site was cleared and stabilized for construction trailers and a temporary road was built for construction vehicles and equipment.  Water trucks were used to control dust and special shaker plates were installed at the entrance of the site to minimize loose dirt and stones on nearby roads.

With basic infrastructure in place, the team moved next to save three large Torrey Pines growing within the construction zone.  The trees had been identified during the design process and were flagged for relocation to protected areas on the site where they will remain as part of the natural landscape.  Big Trees of California, a firm specializing in relocation of large tree species, began the process of “boxing” these trees in custom built structures 14’ wide by 14’ long and 5’ deep.  Wooden lifting beams were installed underneath to provide connection points for the vertical lift.  A large crane was used to “fly” full grown Torrey Pine trees to their new homes.

Relocating Torrey Pine trees at JCVI La Jolla

With the Torrey Pines now safe, preparations for the building pad began. Several pieces of heavy earth working equipment arrived to begin the dig for the building’s foundation.  However, the crew soon discovered a local soil condition, known as “Lindavista formation,” which proved to be a challenge for even some of the largest machinery.  Fortunately, the team was prepared, and with a few equipment modifications, they reached the designed grading levels required for the excavation in just slightly more time than expected.  The earthen building pad was moisture conditioned, compacted, and surveyed by geotechnical engineers. The first major construction milestone was met!   The team is now focused on installing the concrete foundation and underground utilities.

Caterpillar D-9 at Work

While most of the team was focused on moving dirt, McCarthy’s concrete team began assembling 4’x8’ mock-ups of the architectural concrete that will be used for building’s exterior.  The mock-ups are done to determine the best method for constructing future concrete forms, while simultaneously giving the architects a glimpse at the final appearance of the finished product.  In this first series of concrete mock-ups the team is particularly focused on two important decisions:

1)      How much recycled fly-ash material can be added to the concrete while still maintaining the desired look and strength characteristics? Adding fly-ash to a concrete mix design increases the amount of recycled building material used and can count towards LEED credits. The JCVI building is intended to be one of the few LEED Certified Platinum lab building in the US so every step counts.

2)      How will the concrete forms be constructed to produce the desired finish and house the necessary structural steel elements?


Building forms for architectural concrete mock-ups

Stay tuned for updates on progress of the concrete mock-ups and other design elements of the building.  Also, if you haven’t seen it already, check out the web-cam image here which provides hourly updates from the job site.

2012 JCVI Internship Program Is Now Accepting New Applications

Wow! Another year has gone by.  Its hard to think it is November – almost December with the warm weather we have been enjoying.  However it did not start that way.

Halloween Snow in Maryland!

The 2012 JCVI Internship Program is open to accept spring and summer applications. The application process includes the submission of a resume, essay and transcripts as one PDF file via our online application site. We no longer require letters of recommendation.

Information about the 2012 program can be found at http://www.jcvi.org/cms/education/internship-program/

For summer 2011, we received 544 applicants.  Of these applicants, 30 Interns were selected (10 in San Diego and 20 in Rockville):

  • 7 high school students
  • 9 undergraduate students
  • 13 graduate students
  • 1 secondary teacher

The intern projects ranged across the Institute:

  • A lethal set of virulence factors in uropathogenic E. coli ?
  • Expanding genome transplantation: Streptococcus thermophilus
  • Random Assembly for Use in Swapping as a Tool for Genome Minimization
  • Assembling terminators and promoters
  • Developing Galaxy Tools for the Ordination Analysis of Meta-genomic samples

Good luck to all the applicants this year!

JCVI La Jolla Breaks Ground

It is official! On Tuesday, September 20th JCVI officially broke ground on a new La Jolla, California sustainable lab, to be located directly on the campus of the University of California, San Diego. Craig Venter, JCVI Founder and President along with UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox; Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine, David Brenner; Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Vice Chancellor for Marine Sciences, Tony Haymet; and San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders wielded bamboo handled shovels and green hardhats  at a formal event attended by 120 guests to  kick off the construction of JCVI La Jolla.  [PRESS RELEASE] The ceremony marked a new chapter in the development of JCVI La Jolla and bodes well for the exciting times ahead as this one-of-a-kind facility is constructed.  During the course of construction and through occupancy of the building we will use this blog to keep you abreast of the building’s progress and discuss many of the unique features that will be incorporated into JCVI’s future home.  To learn more about the building program, architecture, and sustainable features click here.   Otherwise, let’s start with a little background.

More than six years in the making, the JCVI La Jolla project has developed a reputation for pushing the envelope in terms of sustainability and energy efficient laboratory design.  The project aspires to achieve carbon neutrality while also demonstrating the benefits of sustainable building practices.  Both of these are lofty yet we felt achievable goals.

From the beginning, UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox was an enthusiastic supporter of the project, encouraging scientific collaborations with JCVI and sharing JCVI’s sustainability goals.  UCSD’s Resource Management and Planning team, including Vice Chancellor Gary Matthews, Nancy Kossan, Boone Hellmann, Brian Gregory, and many others offered invaluable advice and assistance.

In 2006, we began a nationwide search for an architect to lead the project.  We came to a startling conclusion:.  while the entire industry talked the “green building” talk, very few had actually walked the walk.  Fortunately, there was one firm who had both designed some great laboratory buildings and whose passion for sustainability matched our own.  Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects (ZGF) in Los Angeles officially joined the team in February of 2007 under the leadership of Ted Hyman and Doss Mabe.

But having the best architects wasn’t enough, we needed a highly efficient mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) design to allow us meet our “net zero” energy goals, given the  energy intensive nature of laboratories.  While interviewing another architectural firm, we met Peter Rumsey, a mechanical engineer who was rethinking energy efficiency in buildings and promoting novel alternatives to traditional MEP design.  I recall Peter describing one project where he had replaced all of the 90 degree piping bends in a building with swept radius connectors, reduced the system’s overall resistance, and eliminated the need for dozens of pumps and their associated energy consumption. As if this approach to engineering wasn’t enough of a selling point, we were delighted to discover his firm had just completed the first LEED Platinum certified laboratory at UC Davis’s Tahoe Center.  Rumsey Engineers (now Integral Group) joined ZGF and began assembling the world-class design team that would bring JCVI La Jolla to life on paper.

The first several months of the design process were beyond exciting.  The hand-picked team of green building experts all exuded a noticeable sense of excitement every time we sat around the table to discuss ideas for the project.  The creativity floodgate had been opened and was materializing itself in all aspects of the building’s design from lighting systems to on-site water treatment.  Sustainability became the team’s mantra not only from an environmental perspective, but also for the research that would take place in the laboratories.  The labs had to support not only the science of today, but the science of tomorrow.  As a result, we focused on flexibility to ensure the building could adapt to the occupants’ needs over time.  Late in 2007, ZGF presented an architecturally stunning building that not only met the original design intent of achieving carbon neutral operation through “net zero” energy use, but also employed a constructed wetland to treat waste-water for reuse, and exceeded the USGBC’s LEED Platinum rating criteria.

2007 Rendering of JCVI La Jolla

Fast forward to today.  The design team has spent the past 10 months working relentlessly to incorporate hundreds of pages of detail into the original design and develop a set of construction documents from which the project will be built.  Coordination meetings have been held on a regular basis to ensure every element of the building meets JCVI’s operational needs.  In many cases, the original design was improved after the design team took a second look.  For example the original lab layout was modified to provide more bench area and increase flexibility of the support areas.  What started as one large open lab became a series of “neighborhoods” separated by highly configurable rooms that can adapt to a wide array of equipment configurations.

While the architects prepared drawings, we began checking off the long list of items needed for ground breaking.  Applying the same level of scrutiny used in selecting the architect and engineers, we began interviewing builders to join the team.  McCarthy Building Companies came onboard early in 2011 and immediately began providing valuable input about constructability and delivering the highest levels of quality throughout the construction process.

In parallel with our design efforts, we worked with many UCSD offices and individuals to complete numerous environmental studies, perform plan reviews, and provide community outreach about the project.  The entire UCSD community has been a great supporter of both JCVI and the sustainability goals of the project.  We are grateful for UCSD’s support and guidance throughout the multi-year development process.

Today we stand poised to begin mass excavation for the foundation in late November.  Until then, we are busy working to mobilize work trailers, install temporary power, water, and data at the site, and construct a temporary road between the construction site and Expedition Way.

2011 Rendering of JCVI La Jolla

2011 Rendering of JCVI La Jolla

The Mobile Lab Is Going to Sunny San Diego

Late one evening in January 2006, the mobile lab pulled into the parking lot at 9704 Medical Center Drive.  It was such an exciting evening!!  Within a few days, we had all the lab supplies on it and began visiting students.  The first school in the Washington Area was Patapsco Middle School in Howard County.  In addition the other inaugural participating schools were Ron Brown Middle School, Hines Junior High School, and Eliot Junior High School in Washington, DC.  Since then, we had the opportunity to bring the mobile lab to thousands of students in the past 5 years.
First Class on the DG! Mobile Lab, January 2006

First Class on the DG! Mobile Lab, January 2006

Today, the mobile lab began its journey across the US to San Diego.  Let us know if you see it on the highway!
 As you may have seen in September, we just broke ground on our new facility in San Diego.  We began offering education programming in San Diego at our temporary facility in 2007 – we have worked with over 30 teachers.  From these relationships, we look forward to bringing the same opportunities to San Diego students we have in the Washington Area.
Students on the DG! Mobile Lab

Students on the DG! Mobile Lab

 With the current economic environment, keeping this program rolling is challenging.  Yet, it is needed more and more in the classroom.  We need your help!  To find out how you can help keep this science program rolling, visit our Giving Page.