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News : New lab to help unlock life's little secrets, thanks in part to Wayne Hockmeyer (BS '66) and wife Mary

New lab to help unlock life's little secrets, thanks in part to Wayne Hockmeyer (BS '66) and wife Mary
by Eric Weddle Journal and Courier
Wayne and Mary HockmeyerThe structural biology professor lost precious time when more than a year ago the pipes below the floor in his Lily Hall basement lab broke.

"The whole underneath of our lab floor had washed away from the water and we had to clear out of there because the whole floor could collapse," he said.

Rossmann is certain that won't happen at The Wayne T. and Mary T. Hockmeyer Hall of Structural Biology.

The new $32.9 million, 65,690-square-foot building is dry.

At the building's dedication Friday, structural biology faculty and students gathered to tour the facility and thank the Hockmeyer's for their financial gift that kickstarted fundraising to pay for it.

"There was a time in the late '90s when colleagues and I thought a new structural biology building would not happen in our lifetime," said department head Richard Kuhn.

Structural biology is the study of the biological molecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids, which are the building blocks of life. Such molecules are too small to be seen with ordinary microscopes.

Knowing those structures is key to understanding, for instance, what causes certain diseases and how to possibly treat them.

"Discoveries will take place here that will have a global impact," said Rossmann, who is also a National Academy of Science member.

The building, located adjacent to Discovery Park at Harrison Street and Martin Jischke Drive, boasts eight specialized labs and eight general labs for work in the areas of protein production, cell and virus culture, large-molecule crystallization, X-ray diffraction, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, electron microscopy, and analytical and biophysical instrumentation.

There is also Biosafety Level 3 rooms that allows safety for researchers to study viral agents, Rossmann said.

Soon, a Titan cryoelectron microscope will be installed in a two-story area. The National Institutes of Health funded the $4 million microscope.

Due to the subatomic size of the samples, the microscope will be kept isolated and scientists can remotely operate and monitor it from a control center, said Bruce Fuller, a senior design engineer and information technology manager.

Sounds or even a human heartbeat could cause enough vibration to move the sample.

"That is all it takes," he said.

Wayne Hockmeyer graduated from Purdue in 1966 with a degree in entomology.

Later he founded the biotechnology company MedImmune.

He and wife, Mary, gave $5.3 million toward the facility's construction.