Iowa State University: New Research facilty

Advanced Teaching and Research Building opens up at ISU

-Submitted photo
The New Advanced Teaching and Research Building, located on the north end of the Iowa State University Campus opened last spring and is a state of the art facility that is home to many of the departments researching issues facing producers such as soybean cyst nematode, soil health and more.

AMES — A new research building has been built on the north end of the Iowa State University campus, the result of an $88 million project designated for bioscience facility improvements.

The Advanced Teaching and Research Building (ATRB) is a new state of the art research facility that is home to several departments including plant pathology, biological departments, the BBMB (biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology), the GDCB (genetics, developmental and cell biology), the EEOB (ecology, evolution, organismal biology) and entomology.

“We have people here working from molecules to management and everywhere in between,” said Greg Tylka, professor in the department of plant pathology and microbiology. “This building houses almost all of the scientists who work on soybean insects and diseases and that same is probably true for corn insects and diseases. In some respects, we are the pest building, but not the exclusion of other areas. We have lots of other things going on here.”

The new ATRB has been in the planning process for some time and for those that helped to spearhead the new research facility’s existence, it’s been a long time coming.

Supporters of the project include Tylka and Thomas Baum, professor and department chair of plant pathology and microbiology.

-Photo by Kriss Nelson
Thomas Baum, professor and department chair of plant pathology and microbiology, looks over one of the new microscopes in the teaching lab at the Advanced Teaching and Research Building at Iowa State University.

“We have been talking about something like this for years,” said Baum. “It really finally took shape six years ago. We started meetings in July 2012, and on May 1 of 2018, the office was up and running and the first of the faculty were moved in.”

Previously, many of the departments that are now calling the ATRB home were in Bessey Hall.

“At the time we had outgrown it and it was conducive to some of the modern research we were wanting to do and we were literally outgrowing in terms of space available,” said Baum. “Everybody felt that same crunch in terms of space, in terms of quality, in terms of teaching, handling. The biology programs, with 1,000 students or more, they needed teaching labs, we needed teaching labs.”

“It was a closely defined need that needed to be defined and articulated and that’s how we started.”

Bessey Hall is receiving a $30.5 million facelift as part of the $88 million that was dedicated for bioscience facility improvements, which Tylka said included new state of the art teaching labs and facilities and research labs.

-Photo by Kriss Nelson
Greg Tylka, professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Iowa State University, works on soil samples for his research on soybean cyst nematodes in the new Advanced Teaching and Research Building on the ISU campus in Ames.

In addition to funds made available by the BioSciences Initiative, Baum said funding was also secured through fundraising efforts, gifts, bonds and funding from the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA).

The first floor of the new ATRB features a lobby, atrium, offices, research facility for soybean cyst nematodes, meeting facility and two departmental teaching labs.


To show appreciation for the funds provided by the ISA, Baum said the lobby of the new ATRB has been named the Iowa Soybean Association Lobby, and features a mural by artist Rose Frantzen titled “Rhythms — Bean Fields of Sunset.”

During a reception ceremony held in December, ISA president Lindsey Greiner spoke on the history of collaborations between ISU and the ISA. This history spans more than 50 years which Greiner said has benefited Iowa soybean farmers, students and researchers. He also emphasized the bright future to come from continuous collaboration between the ISA and ISU.


The atrium of the ATRB can be viewed from three of the five floors of the building.

Most recently, the atrium received a new piece of artwork titled “Organic Dream Synthetic Means,” made by artists Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues.

Baum and Tylka said they like to consider it a nematode whereas others in the building have said it resembles a plant budding, germination of seed and others.

In addition to the large piece of art, the atrium also features several areas for seating and large windows that reach up three floors allowing for plenty of natural light to illuminate the area.


The ATRB has a 122-seat auditorium that has been designed to be used for an open space area, making it a multi-purpose room that sits just off of the atrium.

“Most auditoriums are slanted, but the floor in this case isn’t,” said Tylka. “There are five heights of tables and chairs and the reason for this approach makes sense because if this room needs to be used for a large event, all of the tables and chairs can be moved out and we have a large room with a flat floor. It gives us lots of flexibility. It has internet capabilities, projectors and whiteboards.”

Whiteboards are prevalent on most walls of the ATRB, making it convenient to jot down notes or presentations at any given time.

Teaching labs

The new ATRB has provided quite the increase in space and convenience when it comes to the research and teaching lab facilities.

“Everything that goes on here (the teaching lab) would have been done in somebody’s research lab,” Tylka said. “We would have had to load it on a cart and move it to the teaching lab. Now we can create it in the adjoining prep room and wheel it right out to the students.”

“That’s one thing we didn’t have before was a prep room where we can set up experiments and wheel them to the lab or people can go in there and work,” Baum added.

The new teaching lab also feature new microscopes.

“That’s a once in a lifetime event for us,” said Baum. “These are beautiful, really awesome microscopes.”

The microscopes are networkable, meaning students and teachers can share pictures and findings through an app to their phones. There are also capabilities to project those pictures onto a large screen in order to better share with the class.

Previously, Baum said students would have to wait in line to view something through the one microscope.

Another teaching lab utilizes computers. This one, Baum said, is typically used as the genetics teaching facility, but other departments utilize it as well.

Research laboratories and more

Research laboratories and support spaces are spread out on the second, third and fourth floors of the new ATRB and have been designed for different departments to be able to collaborate with one another.

“The way the building is designed, it will be conducive to interaction and collaborative work and places where people can bump into each other and exchange ideas and so forth,” said Baum.

Having everyone under one roof is also showing to be beneficial in terms of time for communication. Not only are there at least three meeting rooms available and a kitchenette on each floor for people to gather, but offices are nearby making people easily accessible.

“Anytime in the past, if we needed to talk about something, you would need to schedule a meeting, sometimes three weeks in advance, and that meant somebody had to travel somewhere,” said Tylka. “Now these conversations are happening in the hallways. Collaboration like that, I think, is sometimes underrated. It is a huge part of what we do anymore. We are in an era of science where we work with other scientists.”

“Some obvious synergies we couldn’t reap the benefits from before, like plant pathology and entomology,” Baum added. “We are so close in what we do in some aspects and now we are on the same floor. Those five individuals from both departments that have this synergy are now housed together. I think that will pay dividends there.”

The second floor is home to faculty that do both research and extension work.

“We are seeing our extension colleagues in the hallways as well, not just our research colleagues,” Tylka said. “Students and staff are also interacting well. The next generations of scientists are going to grow up in a collaborative environment where that is norm. You don’t hibernate in your own little lab. You share equipment, you share thoughts. There are whiteboards all over the place for writing down those ideas. It’s going to pay.”

Another big feature to the second floor is a new location for the Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic.

“This is an effort the university has had for a while,” said Baum. “We call it the one stop shop for anybody that has a plant-related problem or in need for an insect diagnosis. We had the clinic in Bessey Hall previously. It was a bit hidden.”

He added anyone with those issues can walk right into the ATRB and go up to the second floor to the clinic.

“You can talk to somebody, drop off your sample, or you can call or submit it by e-mail,” he said. “We were able to supply the clinic with a beautiful space. It expanded their capacities, their capabilities on what they can do. I think it’s going to be the crown jewel in terms of being the face and service to Iowans.”

The fifth floor of the ATRB was left unfinished, but most recently, Baum said plans have been made for the Nanovaccine Institute to take over that space.

According to ISU, regents approved a $6.5 million plan in December to create the headquarters of the institute.

The roof holds nine greenhouses — six for pathology and microbiology, two for entomology and one for the GDCB.

“That was another need that was met,” said Baum. “Greenhouses.”


Baum said there are multiple research projects going on, but some are new to a particular research subject.

Tylka’s primary research at ISU has been on the soybean cyst nematode (SCN). With more than 10,000 soils samples coming to the university each year for SCN research, the new ATRB is making that job a little easier.

One aspect is a new machine that is unique to ISU.

Tylka said the AWSEM — automated, wet, sieving, extraction machine — was built by a machine shop in nearby Colo.

“It’s the only machine in the world,” he said. “It was designed by my research staff and can process four samples at once. We sieve out the nematodes from a mixture of soil and water in an automated process.”

Baum is currently working on research of SCN.

“It is the No. 1 pathogen of soybeans in the state,” said Tylka. “I work at it from the whole organism to the population level in the field. But it feeds on individual plant cells to get its nutrition and if we can stop the feeding process, we would be able to engineer resistance and that’s a focus of Thomas’ research.”

“The nematode communicates with the plant and once we figure out how that communication happens, I can make the plant not listen to that anymore,” said Baum.

Tylka said Gwyn Beattie, who works with plant pathology and microbiology, is working on studying soil microbes and how they affect plant health.

“It’s an emerging area of research in the field of crop production,” he said. “We know a tremendous amount of what happens above ground with crop production and not nearly as much as what happens below ground. Internationally that is coming in full force and we have Gwyn in our department who is among those leading the charge in research.”

“I think that is one thing that is happening in this building that is pioneering in the science,” Tylka added. “It’s a new frontier.”

“It is a completely different way of looking at things and it is going to be revolutionary,” said Baum, adding that CRISPR-CAS genome editing is also a part of some cutting edge research going on at the ATRB.

“Now we have the tools where we can actually change the genes off the host plants in a more deliberate fashion to engineer plants to do what we want them to do,” he said.

Baum went on to say that entomologists are working hard to learn more about a new pest that has been found attacking Iowa’s soybeans — the new soybean gall midge.

“Erin (Hodgson) and Matt (O’Neal), they share a lab, have offices next to each other and are trying to understand the biology of it and get out some management strategies,” said Baum.

He added all of the research, specifically research going on to help producers, is an incredible concentration of brain power that will serve Iowa farmers.

“We are pulling towards a common goal of helping farmers solve real problems in the state and in the world,” he said. “We feed off each other, we educate our decisions from each other and this building exemplifies that.”


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