An institute for the future (Issue 25, 2010)


The future La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science

The La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) set to open in 2013 aims to be a new breed of research institute, one that wants to reach out to the world.

LIMS will cost more than A$97 million to construct, which includes A$64.1million from the Australian Government’s Education Investment Fund, A$27.2 million from the University and a substantial donation from the Jakarta-based Riady Foundation. The Institute will provide research facilities for about 220 scientists – researchers, students and support staff to help overcome a critical shortage of bioscientists in Australia.

But that’s not the prime reason the project interested the Australian Government, says the head of the School of Molecular Sciences and the driving force behind LIMS, Professor Nick Hoogenraad. ‘It will integrate science teaching, training and learning,’ he says. And that is played out in LIMS in several ways.

For instance, nestled near working research laboratories, the LIMS building will incorporate laboratories for between 300 and 400 undergraduate students. There will be common meeting rooms, as well as lecture theatres and teaching spaces. The idea is that both La Trobe and secondary school students undertaking projects at the University will be constantly bumping into researchers. In that way, science will be demystified and students inspired. The plans reveal a very modern research institute, with huge open spaces and labs with glass walls, researchers and their sophisticated technology visible to the visitors.

LIMS will expand the activity of the School of Molecular Sciences by 30 per cent, says Professor Hoogenraad, increasing its capacity to train early to mid-career researchers. ‘They need to learn how to run their own laboratories, train doctoral students and manage research budgets.’ In Australia, he says, for every 1000 doctoral graduates in science, there are only about 100 positions available. LIMS aims to provide an extra 25 positions a year.

LIMS will house eighteen new molecular biology laboratories - each for different research groups within the School of Molecular Sciences. Researchers will study protein structure and function, biotechnology, parasitology, genetics, chemistry, cancer research and programmed cell death, as well as teaching and learning. This last set of labs will have a strong focus on how best the facility can stimulate interest in science, at undergraduate level, in schools and in the wider community.