Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Building scientists


Several times a week for six months, graduate biology student Bryan Botson wakes up before dawn to get picked up by a Jet Ranger helicopter.

He is then flown to the middle of the Everglades to study small fish that birds feed on — while trying not to fall prey himself to an alligator in the murky, waist-deep waters.

Botson’s and other researchers’ efforts to assess the wetlands’ current state will get a major boost as a new FAU/UF joint-use facility hosts its ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 10, providing a new state-of-the art hub for Everglades research.

“The ability to conduct more research lets professors get grants more effectively. That makes the university more attractive to outside students, and so it’s a positive feedback loop,” said Dale Gawlik, director of the environmental science program, who’s also one of the key scientists involved in the marshlands’ projects.

He believes that with the new top-of-the-line labs, the recent hiring of faculty for the new facility, and the partnership with UF, the environmental program is destined to boom.

“We are going to have a lot of students and lots of faculty involved.”

Located next to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences building, right across the street from the other FAU buildings on the Davie campus, it will also allow for the storage of airboats and on-the-field research equipment.

Gary Perry, dean of the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, has ambitious plans for the growing campus. He wants to mold it into a science-oriented giant.

“As we go forward, really the goal is to try and specify the program on the [Davie] campus, make that campus mission-specific with respect to science and biology,” Perry said.

FAU, UF scientists, and the U.S Geological Survey, a government agency that studies the country’s landscape, will work together for a common cause: the restoration of the Everglades after 40 years of man-caused destruction.

According to Gawlik, the overall restoration is a set of projects meant to address four major ecological problems: the introduction of foreign species to the region; water pollution from agricultural fertilizer runoff; loss of wetlands from housing developments; and hydrologic changes — changes in the amount and distribution of water in the Everglades.

He is working with students like Bryan Botson to try to find connections in how changes in the water affect the Everglades’ wildlife.

Botson, 32, who serves as research coordinator for Gawlik’s lab, is currently studying the relationship between wading birds, such as cranes, herons or storks, and their prey (small fish) during the dry season when the water is low.

“[My favorite part] is a combination of being in the field and collecting the data, and then when you really start putting it together, making some connections,” Botson said. “This research is very exciting.”

He said that these types of birds serve as “indicators” for the environment. If they are nesting and breeding, it means the environment is healthy. If the bird population decreases, it means there’s something wrong with the area.

The South Florida Water Management District, a regional governmental agency that oversees water resources in the southeast part of the state, is funding Botson’s helicopter and many of the Everglades’ projects.

SFWMD uses this type of research to know where they can channel fresh water from while causing the least amount of harm to the wetlands.

The FAU/UF joint-use facility will also house part of the geosciences department to develop maps and graphics to observe how different species move around in the Everglades.

Both undergraduate and graduate biology courses will be offered on its first floor, where one classroom can sit up to 100 students. Gary Perry said that some nursing and psychology classes may also be offered.

Office space for faculty in the College of Arts and Letters will be provided on the top floors.

“[This building] is expanding the campus,” Perry said. “And it’s really growing our entire presence there in Davie.”

The building’s green features

The 75,000-square-foot facility was designed to meet the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable building design and construction.

The new facility was awarded the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification.

– Bicycle racks, changing rooms and showers will encourage researchers to use alternative transportation methods to reduce pollution.

-The landscape will comprise local plants that require little irrigation, reducing water consumption by 20 percent.

– The building will have an air-conditioning system that reduces energy consumption by 14 percent.

– Twenty percent of the construction material comes from recycled items.

– Seventy-five percent of all occupied spaces will utilize natural lighting to reduce energy consumption.

[Source: www.fau.edu]

So, whose building is it anyway?

Gary W. Perry, dean of the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, said that several years ago, FAU was already planning to expand its Davie campus — the problem was that it didn’t have any land.

A Jan. 23, 2009, press release from FAU said that the 25 acres of land where the new facility sits were “transferred” to FAU from the University of Florida.

But two days later, the Sun-Sentinel wrote that UF “donated” the land to FAU.

Phyllis Bebko, associate vice president of Broward campuses, said that the land was a part of the acreage given to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to use for scientific work many years ago.

The story dates back to post-World War II Davie, when the 545 acres that were previously used as an air naval training base were designated by the state for educational purposes. Broward College, Nova Southeastern University and UF got the big pieces of the cake in the ‘60s, with FAU coming last in 1994.

The complex of schools became known as the South Florida Education Center (SFEC), according to SFEC’s website.

“The legislature more recently identified a portion of the UF land and assigned it to FAU because of our growth,” Bebko said via e-mail.

Bebko said that a part of the agreement called for UF to have some space in the first building to be built on their former land.

“It is an FAU building,” Bebko said. “But the second floor is to be occupied by UF scientists, many of whom are colleagues of the FAU scientists who will be in the building.”

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