Promega’s da Vinci Center artfully blends exploration and industry
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As you roll up toward Promega’s new da Vinci Center on the biotech giant’s Fitchburg campus, you’re struck not only by its 21st century architectural flourishes and attractive brick-and-glass façade but also by the modest, more timeworn structure across the street to its right.
That older, smaller structure is unassuming to a degree (if you’re primarily interested in measurables like square footage and height), but it casts a long shadow over the entire campus — one that serves as a keen reminder of the company’s ongoing role in exploration, discovery, and pure intellectual curiosity.
The building — the University of Wisconsin’s first student observatory — was originally erected on the UW campus in 1880. Today, after having been moved in 1960 to a location that would eventually become a small islet among the wide-ranging landscape of Promega’s campus, it stands as a fitting bookend to the company’s state-of-the-art da Vinci Center, which broke ground in May of 2013 and officially launched in June of this year.
If nothing else, the observatory can serve as a reminder that Promega — while chiefly engaged in creating molecular tools that aid researchers in the fields of genomics, protein analysis, cellular analysis, drug discovery, and genetic identity — retains much of the cultural (and intellectual) DNA of its founder, Bill Linton.
Linton is well known for wading — if not diving into — some pretty deep intellectual waters. Promega’s annual Bioethics Forum, which in recent years has taken an inventive approach to such topics as dying and consciousness, human creativity, and the connection between consciousness and nature, is a testament to Linton’s dedication to intellectual exploration and inquiry.
In a sense, the da Vinci building — an engineering and manufacturing facility that supports some of Promega’s purely utilitarian goals — is an extension of that.
On a recent tour of the da Vinci Center, IB spoke with Promega’s facilities director, Dan Motl; the company’s lead packaging engineer, Marc Janes; and Penny Patterson, senior director, communications and marketing services.
There’s a certain “wow” factor to the facility — with its sleek, modern sustainability features (including solar panels and passive solar features that flood the facility with natural light); its 3D printer, CNC lathe, laser-cutting tool, sample-cutting tool, and FARO arm, which can quickly prototype needed parts and packaging components; and a somewhat incongruous but decidedly breathtaking roomful of classic cars (which, we’re assured, serve a vital client-relations role).
However, what immediately clues you in to the facility’s uniqueness is its name, which signals a willingness to experiment, innovate, and push the envelope toward new possibilities.
Officially, as Promega’s corporate website notes, the da Vinci building provides “company-wide support for new production equipment and processes … [and allows] for design, fabrication, and testing of machine components and control systems using state-of-the-art techniques.”
But that just scratches the surface. For one thing, this level of dedication to engineering and fabrication in a life sciences company is unusual.