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Danforth Plant Science Center to dedicate new wing

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
The William H. Danforth Wing includes space for 100 more scientists. The center has already begun hiring.

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center will dedicate a new wing of the facility on Friday. The expansion is called the William H. Danforth Wing, in honor of the founding chairman who helped create the plant science center in 1998.

"Everyone thinks I had a big plan when we started. You know you have to feel your way. That’s what you do in life,” Dr. William Danforth told St. Louis Public Radio. “We’re now far ahead of where I thought we would be when we started.”

Today the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is world-renowned. Named for Danforth’s father, who led Ralston-Purina, the center is focused on improving human health and preserving the environment.

It’s also helped make St. Louis a destination for plant scientists.

The new wing will continue that tradition, said the Danforth Center’s president Jim Carrington.

Credit (courtesy Donald Danforth Plant Science Center)
Dr. William Danforth is the founding chairman of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and namesake of the William H. Danforth Wing.

“Everybody likes new, modern facilities because science requires technology and good working spaces to be at its best, so it is a big attractant,” he said.

The $45 million dollar expansion is 79,000 square feet and is four levels. It contains 34 controlled environment chambers for plant experiments, a bio-computing suite and a Maker Shop for new instrument development. 

The wing also includes enough space to hire 100 new scientists.

Carrington said they’ve already made three important hires, including MaliaGehan.

Gehan has served as a National Science Foundation Plant Genome Initiative postdoctoral fellow at the Danforth Center since 2012. Now she will be a principal investigator with a focus on understanding and improving temperature stress tolerance of plants.

She’s especially excited about the new controlled environment chambers.

“So if we want to know how plants survive in extreme cold, we have to be able to mimic those conditions,” Gehan said.

The new wing also has a lot of collaborative space with flexible labs and open office suites.

“We want people to collide; we want people to interact; we want people from different groups working on different things to be sitting next to each other,” Carrington said. “That, we believe, is the ingredient for creating new and exciting things.”

For Danforth, that’s a big change from his days in science. He said 50 years ago, he worked mostly alone or with just one technician.

“It’s now a team sport,” he said.

Danforth said science will keep changing, and the new wing will position the center to keep up.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.