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FAU climbing the research ladder

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FAU climbing the research ladder

This is a pretty cool article. i like the fact it appeared in the Miami Herald.


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http://www.miamiherald.com/460/story/128821.html


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Deep thinkers: Ocean research icon joins FAU
BY NOAH BIERMAN
[email protected]

FORT PIERCE – Florida taxpayers are about to acquire a 204-foot research ship, a pair of submarine pods that dive more than half a mile under water and a library of 47,000 sponges and microorganisms that may hold cures to cancer.

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, a Jacques Cousteau-era wonderland about two hours north of Fort Lauderdale, is merging this summer with Florida Atlantic University. Harbor Branch has kept a relatively low profile outside of marine science circles since 1971, when an heir of the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals fortune teamed with Edwin Link, the inventor of the flight simulator, to pursue a passion for underwater exploration along the Indian River Lagoon.

Harbor Branch may be known best for its scientists' discovery of the Challenger space shuttle rocket booster on the ocean floor – the smoking gun that proved a faulty O-ring caused the 1986 explosion. It's among three organizations in the nation, and six in the world, that run manned deep sea submersible research vehicles along the floor of the ocean.

The changing tastes of a new generation of benefactors, a more competitive research environment and two hurricanes forced the private nonprofit organization to cut staff last year and consider selling off some of its 530-acre waterfront campus.

But the same day Harbor Branch board members were scheduled to hear a pitch from condominium developers, they heard a bailout plan hatched by FAU President Frank Brogan and state Senate President Ken Pruitt that would make the institute part of FAU. It passed the Legislature, and Gov. Charlie Crist gave the nod when he signed the budget May 24.

A NATURAL MATCH

Harbor Branch will get $44.7 million to repair and rebuild damaged buildings and another $8.5 million a year to operate. The acquisition helps turn FAU, the Boca Raton-based public school that serves Broward County, into a more serious research university, adding $16 million a year in grant money and expertise in a field where Florida is a natural player.

''The potential, as the commercial says, is priceless,'' said Brogan, whose university extends from an ocean engineering center in Dania Beach to the northern border of St. Lucie County.

Harbor Branch scientists welcome the financial stability, albeit with some anxiety. 'Everybody is like, `How exactly is this going to work?' '' said Shirley Pomponi, Harbor Branch president. She adds that she and FAU leaders ``are all on the same page.''

FAU immediately moves up the ranks of Florida's major marine research universities, which include the University of Miami, Florida State University and the University of South Florida.

''It's going to rearrange the furniture,'' said John Ogden, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, a consortium of 21 research organizations. ``There'll be some tensions, [but] I think this is healthy for the state.''

ECONOMIC STRATEGY

Brogan and Florida chancellor Mark Rosenberg expect Harbor Branch to fit into a larger strategy to sell university research as an engine of economic development. FAU also has a relationship with Scripps Research Institute and Torrey Pines Institute, private biomedical research groups lured to southeast Florida by government subsidies.

Together with new medical schools in Miami and Orlando, the new projects amount to a bet that will cost taxpayers billions, in hopes of yielding a higher-wage economy.

Research, economic development and environmental preservation are the primary drivers in the deal, but it also promises to expand opportunities for students. Harbor Branch trains a couple dozen interns and post-doctoral scientists looking to cut their teeth in the world of government-sponsored research. Eight or more undergraduates from FAU also participate in a Semester at Sea program that lets them live on campus.

''My classmates and I were isolated from everything else and were really given a chance to explore deep into our chosen field,'' said Dan DeMarino, an FAU student from Farmingdale, N.J., who attended in spring.

FAU vice president for research Larry Lemanski expects Harbor Branch to become ''a very, very popular program,'' but he has yet to determine how many students that will mean. Much will depend on the pace of building. Last year, FAU opened an $11 million joint research building at Harbor Branch. The school and the institute have been collaborating on projects for more than a decade, including one to harvest energy from underwater turbines.

LIKE A SCIENCE FAIR

Harbor Branch's sprawling campus – covered in sabal palms, oak trees and sculptures of men fishing and reading the newspaper – runs like a science fair for grown-ups.

One day last week, three engineers huddled around a large, round swimming pool behind the house of late founder Seward Johnson Sr. They were testing acoustic sensors to keep manatees from getting stuck in gates.

Past a few acres of mangroves, a researcher named Paul Wills is raising pompano in one of 18 Quonset huts. Thousands of fish swim in circles in 32 fiberglass vats. Wills is testing whether they will survive in low-salt content water to make them cheaper to farm inland.

Other huts house a private spin-off company called Ocean Reefs and Aquariums – the world's largest farmer of clown fish, giant clams and other aquarium fish.

One of two submersible vehicles sits in a machine shop under rafters. It resembles a giant insect from a science fiction movie – with a rounded observation glass in the front and a moveable claw used to lift deep-sea sponges and other samples from the ocean floor.

''It's way cool. It's like the absolute best part of my job,'' said Pomponi, a respected researcher who has been on 300 dives in the vehicles.

THE DISCOVERY

Though many scientists explore the sea bottom using robots, viewing it from all sides with a human eye allows for ''serendipitous discovery,'' Pomponi said.

Pomponi led a team of scientists who developed a potential cancer drug from a deep-water sponge called discodermolide, licensed to Novartis Pharma in 1998. It remains in development.

Peter McCarthy leads a group of scientists looking for more potential cures. He oversees a room housing 17,000 test tubes full of micro-organisms and another one that holds 30,000 soft corrals and sponges. Scientists are extracting chemicals – often poisons used as protection against larger animals – to learn if they might be able to kill disease cells.

''Does it produce a new antibiotic? Does it produce a new anti-cancer agent?'' he says.

It will take years to find out.

Miami Herald writer Kaitlyn Lavender contributed to this report.






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FAU climbing the research ladder

My favorite part was the line

"the Boca Raton-based public school that serves Broward County, into a more serious research university"

which could have been

"the Boca Raton-based commuter school that serves Broward County, into a more serious research university"

and I'm glad they didn't call it a commuter school.

I'm surprised the Herald posted this. They usually don't like us (but then again, they're in Miami near FIU and UM, rivals of FAU).

P.S. I don't respond to guest posts. All guests are encouraged to register with the site.
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FAU climbing the research ladder

FAU will now have 2 submarines and another research vessel. Honestly, how many other universities have one submarine.



My favorite part is:

"FAU immediately moves up the ranks of Florida's major marine research universities, which include the University of Miami, Florida State University and the University of South Florida."





FAU - THE REAL SLEEPING GIANT
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FAU climbing the research ladder

This article was in the Florida Today in central florida but I couldn't find it online. I checked several other papers (including the Post) and the same article is being run throughout the state. I'm sure because it is an AP story but it gets the name out everywhere. Pretty cool. ;D

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/search/content/gen/ap/FL_FAU_Harbor_Branch_Merger.html

P.S. this is the same as the lead post
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FAU climbing the research ladder

Why is it "the Boca Raton-based public school that serves Broward County"? Do the 1.5 million people of Palm Beach Coumnty count as well?

That is such a stupid description.
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