Translational Research for Alternative Energy

How many of us will confess to using the latest “buzz words” or jargon to the point that we’ve forgotten its real meaning?  I’ll admit I participate in an extremely jargon-rich profession, and I’m guilty.  In the last 20 years I’ve had a lot of direct interaction with scientists.  I know them to be very skeptical people who exist in a world where there is always talk of ground breaking and revolutionary ideas.  They also are much more careful about grabbing the latest trends and “buzz words”.  This explains my surprise to hear the concept of Translational Research applied to Alternative Energy Research at a recent trip to one of our National Labs.

As far as I knew the term was coined by NIH to award funding to research programs, through CTSA Grants, that seek to rapidly move ideas from basic science to more applications based solutions.  The concept is to mine the great ideas that today exist in our institutions of higher education and press them more quickly into practical industry based applications that would improve the public’s health and return on investment.  I was now forced to question if my notion of Translational research was right and if so could/should it be adapted to Energy Research.  I consulted the NIH website  and felt comforted to see I had the general concept.  But these were smart people they couldn’t have gotten it wrong, so I consulted the great source of all things: Wikipedia.  To my delight they have a working definition that pretty much matches my thinking.

So I’ve just proven that my friends at the National Laboratories are technically correct.  The question I’m asking is what does this all mean?  I hear the competition say “we do Translational Research Buildings”, but I wonder if the statement would be more accurate if they said “we do buildings in which Translational Research occurs”.  I believe that if we as architects understand the essence of Translational Research and the behavior changes that it requires we can design buildings that better support the mission.  For Biomedical Research we’ve seen the following elements are critical.

• Access to Multi-tenant Laboratory and Office space where industry partners and academics can collaborate
• Access to large tissue and compound libraries
• Direct access to clinical resources and patients
• Access to Pilot facilities where trial doses can be produced for human consumption
• Access to animal models for efficacy and toxicology studies
• Access to venture capital money
• Access to research talent

The question I’m asking today is: “What are the corollary structures required for energy research?”  Resist the temptation to latch on to the buzz word and spend some time thinking about the question.  The needs of energy research are unique and we’ll make better buildings to support Translational Energy Research if we view them as such.