PES draws strong crop of visitors

Mel George doesn't spend a lot of time in offices or labs working on his research. As a UC Cooperative Extension specialist, he's more likely to be out on Northern California ranches teaching farmers how to balance protection of riparian habitat on their land with the placement of their grazing cattle.

But when he has data from Global Positioning System sensors that he has placed on cows, he'd like to have a lab in which to work. Until the new Plant and Environmental Sciences Building opened earlier this year, George, who works with the Department of Agronomy and Range Science, and his Extension colleagues never had that.

"We had little pieces of space, and we bummed things," he said. "But it wasn't very efficient."

He has plenty of space in the new PES building. The 125,069-square-foot building's state-of-the-art facilities and the research programs housed there were on full display Monday. That day, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences hosted a building open house and dedication attended by close to 200 visitors.

On the building's front lawn, George showed off a Black Angus cow wearing a GPS device.

Graduate students working on an agricultural dust study in professor Randy Southard's Land, Air and Water Resources lab in the building explained to mingling visitors how they are trying to decrease air pollution caused by the dust, as well as protect agricultural workers.

Other departments - including environmental horticulture and environmental science and policy - showcased the research they do in such areas as restoration ecology and water quality.

"It's nice to have people from different departments together," said graduate student Julie Baker, who works in Southard's lab. "There are people you can try ideas out on. You have a huge amount of resources and new facilities."

Most of the faculty and staff members and students working in the new building were once split between Hoagland and Hunt halls.

In Hunt, agronomy and range science professor Ford Denison made do with a converted cold room, like a large walk-in refrigerator, to do his research on nitrogen fixation in legumes. Members of his research group are trying to maximize the use of nitrogen for future crop growth without creating the water pollution it can cause.

Now he has a roomy lab, where a number of open house visitors congregated Monday, plus a custom-designed electronics room next door. There, scientific instruments display measurements of internal oxygen in the legumes' root nodules.

In the experiment, nodule function is manipulated by exposing the nodule to an atmosphere without nitrogen.

Denison's new facilities also allow him to perform specialized molecular research. "This part of my program has really expanded a lot," he said.

Campus administrators said the new building's resources - of people and technology - will ensure that UC Davis' research profile remains high.

"It takes both … to continue our advances in agricultural and environmental sciences," said Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The $43 million building was paid for through a mix of state, university system and campus funds. The aggregate stone-faced facility, which sits between Hunt and Veihmeyer halls, houses 54 labs, as well as administrative offices.

Like many new campus buildings, the Plant and Environmental Sciences facility exceeds state energy conservation standards by more than 10 percent by using high-efficiency lights, occupancy sensors and temperature-sensitive air conditioning.

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Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,

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