Vision for the Future
BFL has the potential to be a major destination for City of Austin residents, a hub for public science education, and an anchor for greatly expanded education and research programs in integrative biology. By enhancing existing facilities and using small amounts of adjacent property, BFL could become a national destination for science education and research. Here are four bold ideas for the development and improvement of BFL:
- Expanded classroom and research space
- Biological collections under one roof
- A new “Biology Campus”
- A world-class public science center
We envision a new building with a large auditorium, classrooms and teaching labs that can be used to enhance the on-site biology course offerings for undergraduates. Demand for these courses at BFL already exceeds capacity, and there are currently no indoor spaces at BFL truly designed for teaching (teaching space is currently converted research space).
Greenhouse space on main campus is limited, but demand is high, especially given new research initiatives in plant genomics related to alternative energies and drought adaptation to water shortages. We envision constructing at least 27,000 square feet of new, modern greenhouses.
Additional field space, gained from proximal properties, could broaden research programs. For example, an additional 60-80 acres, including access to and control of the land along the Lady Bird Lake flood plain would be ideal.
The college currently has over 2 million animal and plant specimens used for teaching and research. The collections of flora and fauna, largely from Texas, are priceless, but they are housed inadequately and scattered around both the main campus and the Pickle Research Center. The specimens are used to study ecology, global climate change, and as “DNA banks” for studying genetics and evolution.
We envision a new building that can house all research collections at BFL, a situation that would be a great advantage for both teaching and research. Such a facility would also enhance public outreach at BFL.
BFL is already a magnet facility for attracting and retaining integrative biology faculty and a key teaching resource. Our vision is to create an advanced teaching laboratory fully integrated with the outdoor facility and habitats already available at BFL.
We see BFL as the future “Integrative Biology Campus” where all advanced courses would be taught on site, not on the main campus, and where faculty and graduate student research is seamlessly integrated with undergraduate teaching, research internships, and public outreach.
We imagine the biodiversity resource collection of plants and animals centered within or near BFL and available for teaching, research and outreach in the living context of natural habitats, living greenhouse collections, and a “biotron” that would hold live butterflies, plants and other creatures.
This campus would consist of new buildings and/or significant modifications to current buildings (such as the Lake Austin Center). Such a campus would make The University of Texas at Austin the premier site in the world for education in environmental biology, ecological and evolutionary genetics, landscape ecology, chemical and molecular ecology, biological impacts of climate change, and physiological ecology.
Austin lacks a major science museum and outreach facility, but the resources are here at the university to create one of unparalleled quality.
We envision a major science center, called Discover Texas, built on land adjacent to BFL that would use the lab, its river site, and the our vast biological collections to create an experience on scale with the California Academy of Science in San Francisco. The center would focus on Texas natural science, from explorations of what lives in Texas waters and caves to what one can see in the Texas night sky.
This new center would have exhibits that tell the story of Texas through time, including new displays of the animals that dominated prehistoric Texas, from Alamosaurus to the largest flying reptile that ever lived. We would include the best of our present dioramas and build new ones, including some that show off the wonderful diversity that is modern Texas.
Interactive learning facilities would be integrated with the research and teaching facilities at BFL, and could include preparing fossils, screening cave deposits, pinning and identifying insects, walking through a butterfly greenhouse, seining at the edge of Lady Bird Lake, and more. A pier could extend onto the lake, with an aquarium exhibit, a pier lab, and a boathouse for research and teaching boats.
We also envision a planetarium and other revenue generating educational and visitor services, from an IMAX theater to a biodiversity-themed rooftop restaurant that promotes sustainable development.
The science center will allow us to fully exploit The University of Texas at Austin’s intellectual talent, unparalleled research collections, technological expertise and educational innovation to make Austin a leader of public engagement in science.
A rough sketch of a new science center at an expanded BFL