World class facilities plus coffee fosters enterprise in Ireland

With the arrival of fifteen cadavers, the anatomy teaching lab in Trinity College Dublin’s new Biomedical Sciences Institute will be complete. It is already fitted with fifteen stations, each with surgical lights, a high-definition video camera and flat-screen monitor. The instructor can show the feed from any station on the monitors – all controlled from an iPad.

It is just one room in the €131 million, 35,000 m2, eleven-story building that Trinity’s Dean of Research, Dr David Lloyd, is showing me around. “This is absolutely state of the art. This is phenomenal.”

Dr David Lloyd; Taoiseach Enda Kenny; Dr John Hegarty at the opening of the Biomedical Sciences Institute

The building houses 700 researchers and 900 undergraduates in five schools: medicine, biochemistry & immunology, pharmacy & pharmaceutical science, chemistry and bioengineering. It is just one part of Trinity’s ambitious expansion of their science facilities.

“It occurred to us that we actually had a number of properties on Pearse Street which were sequential in nature and we described this notion of a science corridor”, says Lloyd. This includes the €100M CRANN nanoscience institute, an Enterprise Centre and plans for a further 20,000 m2. “It’s a big, big project. It’s a multibillion project really when the whole thing is costed.”

The Institute is divided between academic space, and retail and rental space, including 3,000 m2 of industry laboratory space. Lloyd’s vision is to put industry literally down the hall from academics. The “key integrator for multi-disciplinarity”, according to Lloyd? “Coffee.” “When people have to walk past each other then they do tend to talk to each other.”

Spinouts are a part of Lloyd’s vision too. “We’ve invested in basic research for the last ten years nationally and that’s started to be converted to companies so we’re seeing increased spinouts in the area of biotech and medical devices.” Nonetheless, he is aware of the challenges ahead. “I think we hit a bit of perfect storm in terms of rental markets and what people can afford to pay for space. There’s also a major depression in the market around the availability of funding for early stage biotechs. But there’s a good degree of optimism.”

€80M funding for the academic space came from the exchequer through the Higher Education Authority Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions. The balance, €51 million, was met by the college, primarily through a loan from the European Investment Bank. “That was on the basis that this was a regenerative programme, that we engage with industry and that we were delivering a whole series of graduates who were relevant to the economy”, says Lloyd. “We went ahead on the basis of risk and that was approved by the board, but it was a big risk and we needed that support.”

In recognition of the schools of Medicine and Chemistry’s tercentenaries this year, there are 300 pieces of art throughout the building. Standing in the foyer, Lloyd gestures to a painting by artist Anne Madden, A Space of Time. “In 2001 she said to [provost] John Hegarty, could we find somewhere to put it? It took us ten years to find somewhere to put it and it fits exactly. So I told her we built the building just to accommodate her piece of art.” But in truth, it’s that kind of creativity that the building really has been built to accommodate.

Martin McKenna

Martin is a final-year biochemistry undergraduate. Before college, he studied photography, and now he want to learn to cook. If anyone can think of a career path which combines all of these then please let him know!
Martin McKenna

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