The University of California’s Richmond Field Station (RFS) has been a hub of research and innovation for COEH members for over a quarter of a century. Though founding Director Bob Spear recognized the value of the campus early on, the announcement in January 2012 that Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and UC Berkeley picked RFS as the site of its second campus presents opportunities for new collaborations and a significant investment in services and resources.
The highly productive Ergonomics Program launched in 1992 by Director David Rempel has grown to occupy 3,000 square feet of laboratory research and meeting space at the site, located six miles northwest of the UC Berkeley Central Campus on the San Francisco Bay.
Kirk Smith, professor of Global Environmental Health and the 2012 Tyler Laureate for Environmental Achievement, operates the Laboratory of Air Pollution at RFS. The dry lab, with its controlled temperature and humidity, is essential to his team’s air pollution monitoring studies from around the world including Mexico, Guatemala, China, India, and Nepal.
Nina Holland relocated her lab team to RFS two years ago. She believes the upcoming expansion, with its focus on biosciences, will establish the East Bay corridor as the Silicon Valley of biotechnology, bringing together researchers from the University of California and LBNL with other biotech enterprises in the area.
Holland is a faculty member in the Environmental Health Science Division of the School of Public Health (SPH) and director of the SPH Biorepository and the Children’s Environmental Health Laboratory. She calls her space in Richmond “a tremendous resource” with its wet lab for teaching and research, in addition to ample offices for undergraduate and graduate students.
Established in 2003, the SPH Biorepository houses over 150,000 biological and environmental samples that have been processed and archived from more than 30 projects conducted by UC Berkeley faculty in collaboration with UCSF, the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Stanford University , the Center for Disease Control, and Kaiser Research Institute, Oakland.
“The most critical part of the Biorepository is the database, which keeps track of thousands of bar coded samples with individual locations among multiple deep freezers and nitrogen tanks,” says Holland. New samples of blood, saliva, teeth, urine and other tissues are arriving all the time, and Holland and her team have the flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of the developing portfolio of projects.
Currently, the team includes six undergraduate and graduate students along with three staff researchers. Lab interns, under Holland’s mentorship, prepare for advanced degrees in Public Health, Biology and Medicine. For example, Karen Huen, who first came to the lab as a master’s student with an undergraduate degree from Stanford, earned a MPH and PhD from UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Her paper “PON Genomics” was awarded best student or new investigator research publication of 2010 by the leading journal, Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis.
Each summer, Holland delivers a Molecular Epidemiology seminar to the interns from COEH’s STEER Program (Short Term Educational Experiences for Research in Environmental Health for Undergraduate Students). The seminar, which includes hands-on lab skills, gives students a well-rounded understanding of the research conducted by the Children’s Environmental Health Laboratory and the role of the SPH Biorepository.
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