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Molecular Biology Building

Molecular Biology Building, exteriorIowa State University’s Molecular Biology Building demonstrates that the functionality demanded by science can blend with the form and beauty intrinsic to art. The Molecular Biology Building is an innovative, five-level science structure designed to meet the challenge of unraveling the molecular secrets of living organisms. The building’s interior and exterior art are integrated thoroughly into its structure to reflect the research and teaching conducted within. The building’s research and teaching laboratories, classrooms, greenhouse and animal facilities, special support facilities, and offices provide a stimulating and supportive environment for the creative scientists who are its occupants.

In the Molecular Biology Building, diverse groups of researchers can merge ideas to generate new knowledge that can be applied to the improvement of agriculture, the environment, and human and animal health:

  • Crop plants resistant to drought, disease, insects, or mineral deficiencies
  • Safe and effective animal health products
  • Reduction of environmental pollution through new biodegradable materials or microbes that digest toxic substances
  • New crop varieties with improved qualities for food and industrial uses
  • Greater sustainability of animal and crop production
  • Correction of genetic abnormalities that cause human or animal diseases

The promise of discovery in these and other exciting areas of research draws scientists and students to Iowa State University’s Molecular Biology Building.

Building Facts and Figures

Teaching, research, and outreach have been the focal points of Iowa State University’s mission since its establishment as a land-grant university in 1864. They are also the reasons that the State of Iowa funded the $30.5 million Molecular Biology Building completed in 1992.

The building, located on Pammel Drive in the northwest corner of the Iowa State campus, has 204,600 total square feet–equivalent to 4.7 acres if each floor were positioned side-by-side. After a formal groundbreaking in September 1988, construction began in February 1989, and the building was occupied in early 1992.

Architects of the Molecular Biology Building were Hansen Lind Meyer, Inc., of Iowa City, Iowa, assisted by Stanley Consultants, of Muscatine, Iowa, and Research Facilities Design of San Diego, California. The construction project was managed by Story Construction Co. of Ames, Iowa.

HON Industries, Inc., of Muscatine, Iowa, made a special contribution to the building’s 70 offices and four conference rooms. All the furniture for these areas was donated by the company as a generous gift to Iowa State University.

A People Place

Biotechnology at ISU is, by nature, an interdisciplinary science, drawing on the intellectual resources of five colleges (Agriculture, Engineering, Family and Consumer Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine) to fuel collaborative efforts. The expertise of scientists across the university and professionals around the country influenced the design and planning of research and teaching laboratories, offices, instrumentation rooms, and informal interaction areas.

The emphasis on people, those who would work and learn in the Molecular Biology Building, was central to the planning of the building. At the scientists’ request, all laboratories and offices have windows that provide natural light. Comfortable interaction areas allow researchers to exchange ideas with colleagues and students in an informal setting.

Lab inside the MoliBio buildingResearch Laboratories

The top three floors of the building are devoted to interdisciplinary research. Plant research is conducted primarily on level two, animal research on level three, and molecular structure and function research on level four. Faculty from two university units, the Department of BBMB and the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development (GDCB) are permanently located in the Molecular Biology Building. Laboratory and office space also is available for visiting scientists from industry or other academic institutions.

The building’s laboratories can accommodate 240 researchers in 24 laboratories of four people each and an equal number of six- person laboratories. The laboratories are generic in design to accommodate the ever-changing research needs of a rapidly evolving science.

Researchers share common spaces for cold rooms, darkrooms, instrumentation, tissue culture, and other services. This arrangement not only improves cost efficiency, but encourages interaction among the scientists to spark new ideas in molecular biology research.

Research Support

Instrumentation areas are conveniently located throughout the building. On the lower level of the building is a macromolecular structure area that includes an electron microscope, X-ray diffraction apparatus for crystal structure determination, a 500 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, and a molecular modeling facility with computer workstations.

The ground level of the building includes university-wide facilities for protein and nucleic acid sequencing and synthesis, cell-sorting, and hybridoma research. These facilities are part of a university-wide network of instrumentation facilities for biotechnology research that are available to faculty and students from the university and other educational institutions and industry scientists.

Level two has special rooms for fluorescence and atomic force microscopy. Special rooms for radioisotopes are found on the third level, and facilities for fermentation and organic synthesis are located on level four.

Plant research is supported by a greenhouse on level two and plant growth chambers on level one. Animal facilities that meet the requirements of the American Association for the Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) are on the building’s lower level.

Classroom in MoliBioTeaching Laboratories and Classrooms

A major portion of the building is devoted to undergraduate and graduate education. The classrooms include a modern 200-seat auditorium outfitted with the latest audiovisual and computer-assisted instructional equipment. Iowa State University students learn not only through classroom instruction, but through their own independent research. Much of the research done in the building is conducted by students under the supervision of faculty scientists who are leaders in their fields. To facilitate their research, students enjoy access to the building’s state-of-the-art instrumentation facilities.

For hands-on training in molecular biology techniques, there are four teaching laboratories that can accommodate 96 students. A cold room, dark room, computer room, and several instrument rooms are also in the teaching area.

Opportunities for Outreach

In addition to offering ideal settings for ISU students, the teaching laboratories provide opportunities for hands-on laboratory workshops for such diverse groups as K-12 students, high school teachers updating their skills, extension professionals, and industry personnel.

The 3,500-square-foot atrium is the site of varied activities, including poster sessions for scientific symposia and technology meetings. The atrium also provides a welcoming atmosphere for informal gatherings of students and professors.


The Molecular Biology Building is located at one of Iowa’s foremost educational institutions, but there is nothing “institutional-looking” about it! From the 3000-pound clay “G-Nome” figures on the four roof corners with DNA helixes trailing down the bricks below them, to the DNA molecule in mosaic tile that graces the atrium floor, the building’s art reflects the genetic nature of the scientific work to be accomplished within.

Since 1978, the Iowa Art in State Buildings Act has designated that one half of one percent of a state building’s construction budget is to be used for public art. Andrew Leicester of Minneapolis designed the artwork for the Molecular Biology Building as an integral part of its structure. The overall title for his work is “The G-Nome Project.”

An Invitation to Visit

Iowa State University is proud of its Molecular Biology Building and cordially invites you to visit the facility when you are on campus. For more information, please visit the Building Information webpage. For tour reservations, please contact:

Peter Lelonek 
1210 Molecular Biology Building 
2437 Pammel Drive 
Iowa State University 
Ames, Iowa 50011-1079

Phone: (515) 294-2699