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William Cook Laboratory for Bioscience Research to Expand Rose-Hulman’s Science Opportunities

September 22, 2011

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology has received a $500,000 gift to establish the William Alfred Cook Laboratory for Bioscience Research. For students in the biological sciences, this new laboratory will facilitate and broaden hands-on research involving plant life.

  Living Laboratory: The William Alfred Cook Laboratory for Bioscience Research will be a dedicated campus facility, located adjacent to Crapo Hall, that allows students to develop their knowledge of the biological sciences through the study of plant life and organisms.

As Rose-Hulman builds on its reputation for turning out highly skilled students in engineering, science and mathematics, it expands to meet the future of science education.  Opportunities in bioscience fields have grown over the past 10 years at Rose-Hulman with the establishment of the Department of Applied Biology and Biomedical Engineering, expansion of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and addition of research programs in biofuels, biochemistry, biology and botany.

Now, Rose-Hulman will have a dedicated campus facility that allows students to investigate the biological sciences through the study of plant life and organisms.  The 1,350-square-foot facility will be constructed on the south of Crapo Hall and will become visual focal point for the academic center of the campus.

"William Alfred Cook Laboratory for Bioscience Research will serve as a living laboratory experience for our students," stated Rose-Hulman President Matt Branam.  "This new facility will greatly enhance our campus appearance, showcase our commitment to the life sciences, and help us produce Rose-Hulman graduates who can combine superior problem-solving abilities with an awareness of the role of biology and botany in technical solutions."

The $500,000 donation was made by Carl Cook, chief executive officer of the Cook Group global network of companies and Rose-Hulman trustee, on behalf of his father, life sciences pioneer and company founder William Alfred Cook.    A noted philanthropist, William Alfred Cook and his family were involved in numerous charitable activities, and have supported the expansion of the biosciences at Rose-Hulman.

"My father was a cross-disciplinary inventor who used engineering technology to solve complex problems in the field of internal medicine," stated Carl Cook in announcing the Rose-Hulman donation.

During his lifetime, William Alfred Cook took a keen interest in the development of Rose-Hulman's Applied Biology and Biomedical Engineering department, which quickly achieved distinction among such programs.  The applied biology major is one of the rare biology programs in the country to require a year-long, full-credit research experience.  Meanwhile, the biomedical engineering program was the first among Indiana higher education institutions to earn ABET accreditation (2007).

"Our family is proud to help advance this cross-disciplinary approach to learning and experimentation in the new William Alfred Cook Laboratory for Bioscience Research at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology," the younger Cook announced.  "In this facility, students will explore the roles of biology, botany, chemistry and engineering in finding solutions for complex problems."

Over the past 20 years, biological sciences have played an increasing role in innovative solutions to technical challenges.  Research into alternative energy sources has included the development of algae-to-produce biodiesel fuel.  Similarly, remediation of releases such as oil spills has been achieved using bacteria that consume oil as a food source.  Also, pharmaceutical companies continue to investigate innate plant and animal properties for the creation of new drugs.

Bill Cook        
Life Sciences Pioneer:  The new campus building honors William Alfred Cook, founder of the Bloomington, Ind.-based Cook Group, who supported the expansion of the biosciences on campus.  A $500,000 donation to establish the laboratory was made by his son, Carl, the Cook Group's chief executive officer and Rose-Hulman trustee.

"Knowledge of the biological sciences has opened the door to innovative technical solutions," stated Michael Mueller, head of Rose-Hulman's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.   "The William Alfred Cook Laboratory for Bioscience Research will enhance opportunities for cross-disciplinary education.  The laboratory will offer our students, whether they are majoring in the biological sciences or any of the engineering disciplines, the plant materials and laboratory experiences that will ensure a hands-on education that is the hallmark of the Rose-Hulman experience."

Specifically, biochemical engineering is an emerging area in which a chemical engineer develops products from living cells.  The laboratory will provide a large growing area for cultivating plants that can be used to produce pharmaceuticals from living organisms.

Rose-Hulman has become a center for the creation of biodiesel production from algae.  This research requires large volumes of water with adequate lighting and a controlled environment.  The laboratory will provide the required growing space for algae research, allowing for increased biodiesel production -- from several ounces per week currently being produced to the gallons needed for testing.

Students and faculty will also be able to conduct research about the water hyacinth, a free-floating aqua plant that is extremely aggressive and poses a significant problem in natural lakes and ponds.  Despite the threat it poses, the plant is also excellent for removing toxins, such as cyanide, from waterways.  The laboratory will provide the large controlled area where these plants can be grown for study.

Mueller also noted that laboratory-based courses in Evolution and Diversity, Plant Structure and Function, and Ecology will directly benefit from the William Alfred Cook Laboratory for Bioscience Research.  It will also serve as a teaching facility where students will practice the identification of plants and their parts.  Essential Biology, a popular biology course, will now have a laboratory dimension where students can examine various plants, leading to a better understanding of plant diversity.

William Alfred Cook started developing medical devices in the spare bedroom of his Bloomington, Ind., apartment in 1963.  The Cook family of businesses has grown into a global entity of 42 companies employing more than 10,000 people with manufacturing, sales, logistics, and administrative facilities across the United States, Europe, Asia, and Latin America.  The firms manufacture cardiovascular diagnostic and interventional products, antimicrobial catheters, vascular filters, bioengineered tissue grafts, extruded and injection-molded plastics, precision stainless steel tubing, urological equipment, OB/GYN devices, and endoscopic instruments.

The William Alfred Cook Laboratory for Bioscience Research will be constructed by Garmong Construction Services of Terre Haute, with fabrication by the Winandy Greenhouse Company of Richmond, Ind., led by alumnus Hank Doherty '79.  Another alumnus, Michael Waldbieser '93 of Terre Haute, will be the lead structural engineer on the project.