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The Law of Conservation ... Of Money

In the next half year, the Biochemistry Department will finally get what any concentration with 300 undergraduates might expect to have. A home of its own.

But the building--located at 7 Divinity Ave. and scheduled for completion in late fall or early winter--exemplifies a dilemma the Faculty faces with many of its structures: safety or savings--both aren't possible, but both are wanted. The scenario is similar to that confronting the car manufacturers--better crash protection lowers the mileage rate and vice versa.

To uphold stringent safety requirements, fresh air must continually recirculate through the labs, Harry W. Orf, director of the Biochemical Laboratories and lecturer in Biochemistry and Chemistry, says. In addition, the air pressure in each lab room must be kept lower than the pressure in the hallways to prevent fumes from escaping.

Normal conservation precautions at the labs will inflate significantly the Faculty's already hefty energy bill, and Richard G. Leahy, associate dean of the Faculty for resources and planning, says he expects the biochemistry complex to join the Science Center, William James Hall and the biological and chemistry laboratories as one of the Faculty's highest energy users. Though Leahy has ideas to improve existing science buildings that will make them less wasteful, he adds that their structures seem to hider energy conservation. Nevertheless, Leahy plans to investigate again the biochemistry's pattern of energy consumption once the building opens.

Meanwhile, the already installed energy savers like insulation in the attic, a heating system that recovers 85 per cent of the heat from air before it leaves the building, individually thermostated rooms and adjustable-speed fume hoods may provide leads on how other buildings can save.

Regardless of its energy drawbacks, faculty in the biochemistry department praise the facility itself and view it as a necessary step toward making progress in departmental research. Mark S. Ptashne, chairman of the department, describes the building as "beautifully constructed" and a "first class research and teaching facility."

Since the Faculty formed the department in 1968, up to four buildings have housed parts of the department. But biochemistry's growth created overcrowding and overuse of facilities like the biology and chemistry labs. The department attempted to raise money through private sources, but failed to obtain the necessary funds. Not until 1977 did the University appropriate the balance of the $12 million required to erect the biochemists' own building.

Matthew S. Meselson, Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences, says scientists anticipate that the four-story structure with 105,000 square feet of floor space will meet most of the needs of the department, and provide room for its 15 departmental professor and 60 to 70 graduate students.

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