Originally published in the Iowa City-Press Citizen.

An expansion at the University of Iowa's State Hygienic Laboratory was unveiled to visitors Tuesday as the Center for the Advancement of Laboratory Science, which researchers hope will educate students of all ages and provide resources to other public health researchers.

Building on the $38 million facility at the UI Research Park built in 2010, the 5,000-square-foot expansion includes a functioning laboratory for conducting experiments. Across the hall in the State Hygienic Laboratory basement is a 150 person-capacity conference center, which functions as a meeting space and can broadcast live video feed of lab work.

"We view this center as an opportunity for students to come into this space and learn about not only laboratory science but the hands-on testing that's going on here," said Pat Blake, communications director with the lab. "So we really envision this as (something that) hopefully will inspire students and educate teachers about laboratory science and how they can go about it in their classroom."

The $2.4 million project was funded through $1 million from the state, as well as funds from the city of Coralville, the University of Iowa and the UI Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development and seed money from the Carver Charitable Trust.

STEM Education Coordinator Rick Bonar said the labs unofficially opened late this summer with visits from teachers, Junior Volunteers with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and students from Kirkwood Community College's KICK summer programs.

In addition to supervising labs on water quality, Bonar also oversaw a summer program with students middle school-aged and younger with a "zombie apocalypse" theme that focused on airborne outbreaks and emergency management.

"They liked it a lot," Bonar said. "Kids love gore and gross things. It's right up their alley."

"So it's kind of a good way to get people thinking about being prepared for things and events and figuring out what we do things during an emergency and figuring out … what the emergency actually is."

Christopher G. Atchison is the director of the State Hygienic Laboratory, which works with all of Iowa's 99 county counties to provide screening for diseases and monitors potential outbreaks such as mumps, whooping cough and others, in addition to doing environmental monitoring and screenings for newborns and pregnant mothers.

Atchison said he hopes the new facility provides outreach to the local community that may not understand how the lab operates.

"We've dreamed of having this space to enable the public to see what public health and laboratory science contributes to the state," Atchison said. "And so having this space gives us the opportunity … to just have people from all walks of life, from science and academia, to practice and look at the kind of work we do."

Atchison said he also hopes the facility stimulates interest in young people in laboratory science, especially following the statewide push that began in 2011 to reform STEM education in Iowa.

"The one part that's really exciting is having the STEM programs using this facility. We need to attract the next generation of young people into the sciences."

By Chase Castle

Reach Chase Castle at ccastle@press-citizen.com or 887-5412.