Research labs on the second floor of MacKay Hall were recently renovated to be more open and better facilitate communication between food science and human nutrition researchers, including Peter Clark (center). Photo by Ryan Riley.

Renovated labs provide researchers with critical space for advancements

State-of-the-art facilities are key to Iowa State staying on the cutting edge of changing national trends that require the integration of research, technology, and hands-on experiences.

The College of Human Sciences has completed more than $18 million in building improvements over the past five years. A portion of the renovations are providing researchers in kinesiology; food science and human nutrition; and apparel, merchandising, and design with the space and equipment that is crucial to their high-impact research.

Additional updates are critical to remaining competitive and keeping up with student enrollment growth. A study underway by the college could potentially improve LeBaron Hall, portions of the Human Nutritional Sciences Building, the basement of Lagomarcino Hall, and areas of MacKay Hall yet to be renovated.

"It’s important that our facilities both reflect and support the size and excellence of our programs," said Laura Jolly, dean and Dean’s Chair of the College of Human Sciences. "Our facilities need to be cutting-edge and high-tech to fulfill our vital mission and further advance teaching, research, and outreach."

Exercise intervention and assessment

A nearly complete $5.3 million renovation of the Forker Building includes two new research labs, collectively called the “Exercise Intervention Suite,” that cost $800,000.

In the immediate future, the labs will primarily be used for a five-year, 400-participant study led by assistant kinesiology professor Duck-chul “DC” Lee. The project, funded by a $3.4 million National Institutes of Health grant, will study the effectiveness of aerobic exercise, resistance training, and a combination of both in an effort to prevent cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke.

“We plan to add more state-of-the-art research equipment such as a new ultrasound to measure muscle mass and composition to advance our physical activity epidemiology research,” Lee said. “We also plan to collaborate with other researchers at ISU to promote and facilitate interdisciplinary research and generate more external funding.”

The Physical Activity Epidemiology Lab includes more than $250,000 of state-of-the-art research equipment including a computer-controlled Technogym Wellness System with 24 pieces of exercise equipment and several pieces of clinical test equipment essential to conduct comprehensive health and fitness assessments. A pilot study generated preliminary data, and a new exercise intervention study begins this summer.

"Our lab has a total of 13 research staff members including graduate students and research associates and 30 to 40 undergraduate research assistants every semester to provide hands-on experiences working on several research projects on physical activity and chronic disease prevention and longevity," Lee said.

Nutritional sciences

Research labs on the second floor of MacKay Hall were recently renovated to be more open and better facilitate communication between food science and human nutrition researchers — faculty members Peter Clark, Matthew Rowling, and Auriel Willette along with graduate students, undergraduates, and technicians.

"The three of us have similar themes in nutritional sciences, so sharing equipment across labs is easier to coordinate," said Clark, an assistant professor in food science and human nutrition. "Overall, it has facilitated a more collaborative micro niche in the nutritional sciences."

Part of Clark’s lab space is used for histology, the study of microscopic structures of tissues. He and Willette are building their labs by adding equipment that is critical for their research programs, and could also be used by other research groups.

"My lab now contains state-of-the-art equipment for tissue sectioning and staining, as well as a brand new microscope interfaced to a computer for imaging and analysis software,” Clark said. “This will not only facilitate my research aimed at identifying neuroplastic changes from exercise and diet, but can also be used by others in the department who may be interested in quantifying anatomical changes related to dietary bioactive compounds."

Apparel, events, and hospitality management

Renovation of LeBaron Hall would open possibilities to more effective spaces for high-impact research already underway in apparel, events, and hospitality management.

Iowa State’s apparel, merchandising, and design program is one of few such programs in the nation where undergraduates have access to technologies including a digital textile printer, 3-D body scanner, laser cutter, and computerized embroidery equipment. The Digital Textile Design and Printing Studio in LeBaron Hall houses about $75,000 of this equipment.

The Product Development Technology and Testing Lab includes an environmental room for testing products on human subjects, a sweating guarded hotplate to measure wet and dry thermal resistance, Kato’s Kawabata System to measure mechanical properties of textiles, and other textile testing equipment.

In addition, a textile lab in LeBaron 2092 was recently renovated to house equipment related to developing prototypes related to functional or creative apparel design research. The space includes a variety of sewing machines, knitting machines, and a long-arm quilting machine used to create prototypes. It also houses a large cutting table with interchangeable surfaces suitable for pattern making and cutting out various types of fabrics.

“Without this facility, our research work would not be possible,” said Ellen McKinney, an assistant professor in apparel, merchandising, and design who is on a team of students and faculty members developing a hiking jacket that uses solar energy to charge electronic devices.

A new event management lab will allow students to do mock-ups of events and displays. Future needs include a dedicated photography space to document and disseminate the physical evidence of researchers’ work — both creative and functional design, including undergraduate, graduate, and faculty work.

STEM education research center

A $5.7 million renovation to the north end of Lagomarcino Hall in 2015 brought in more natural light, more meeting spaces, and a more welcoming feel aimed at building a sense of community. However, the renovation did not include the building’s lower level.

Marlene Strathe, director of the School of Education, would like to see a new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education research center built in that space. The proposed $1 million center would research best practices for K-12 teaching in STEM education. It would also open the doors to additional summer outreach, research, revenue generation, and grant opportunities.

“The School of Education is committed to preparing professional educators grounded in research-based instructional practices,” Strathe said. “As a university recognized for excellence in the STEM disciplines, the school has a particular responsibility to provide leadership in STEM education research. The new center would focus on research studies which identify those instructional practices that prepare ISU teacher candidates to provide effective instruction to K-12 students in the STEM disciplines.”

While recent College of Human Sciences renovations have averaged about $3 million a year, faculty members and students are looking forward to possibilities that will advance their research even further. Future needs of the college include a social sciences research center — a space that some argue is equally as important as STEM. The center would house critical research in areas such as human development and family studies.