What’s full of creatives, saves lives and brings hope? Kerrie Russell on why research facilities aren’t dull.

Misconceptions at a dinner party.

No matter what you do for work, there is a particular kind of anguish most of us endure when someone turns to us and asks: ‘so, what do you do?’

When faced with the dreaded question at a recent dinner party, my standard response of ‘I design research facilities’ was – once again – met with a panicked expression, quickly followed by a change in subject.

As I listened to my companion hurriedly veer away from what I’m sure they felt was a distinctly boring conversation about test tubes, I was struck by exactly how criminal it was that I was allowing them to do so.

Because research facilities are not dull, they’re downright magnificent.

When it comes to the root of why research facilities have been painted with the ‘boring brush’, I mostly blame toothpaste commercials.

Stay with me here. Somewhere along the way, the accepted stereotypical image for a research facility has become a deeply sterile, blue-tinged environment, chock-full of Bunsen burners and glass vials in which an unfathomably attractive (but, of course, appropriately bespeckled) model-slash-scientist roams around and prophesises about the miracle attributes of the new toothpaste product.

But when I think of research facilities, I’m thinking of lasers; space rovers and telescopes; energy; food security; cures for diabetes, dementia, and cancer. I’m filled with hope by the creativity of researchers and the lateral way they approach issues like climate change. All I can see is potential – and that’s exciting!

Creativity comes through in research facilities. A colleague of mine, Clare Connan, has previously designed facilities for seahorses to watch television. At the other end of the spectrum, Clare recently completed the design for the new hydrogen research facility, Hycel.

I have designed laboratories for fruit flies with Alzheimer’s, and others testing the way dragonflies see in 360 degrees to help us to fly drones. I am involved in the design of facilities for the researchers at the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development (DPIRD), who are looking at using blowflies to pollinate plants. This will be particularly important for future crop production – particularly with the recent varroa mite outbreaks and our dwindling bee population.

Then there are the optics and instrumentation for space telescopes in the new Australian Astronomical Optics (AAO) at Macquarie University PAE, where researchers will be developing the new optical multi-beam laser collimator that will land on the moon as part of the advanced navigation project. Know what that means? No, neither do I. But I feel immensely privileged to be working with researchers who do.

I feel the same when designing the facilities for the Robinson Institute to progress its infertility research, or the Florey Institute’s advances in mental health, multiple sclerosis, and traumatic brain injury. Not to mention (well, I am!) Suresh Dhillon and Anoop Menon’s work on the first proton therapy unit in the Southern Hemisphere at the recently completed Australian Bragg Centre.

Then there is creating buildings for researchers who look far into the future and want flexible facilities with the tools to build whatever they dream of, from the smallest nanotechnology through to 3D printing in glass, titanium….and living cells. That’s building space for dreams we’re hardly able to fathom yet.

Boring? Hardly!

Talk to Kerrie Russell about What’s full of creatives, saves lives and brings hope? Kerrie Russell on why research facilities aren’t dull.

Passionate about education, health and research, Kerrie holds a diverse portfolio in both large- and small-scale projects, including the Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences (AHMS), Green Chemical Futures and AgriBio. Kerrie’s broad experience demands a range of specialist knowledge including research facility design, staged development within complex sites and the ability to sensitively distill complex stakeholder needs to inform functional design briefs. Intuitive and methodical, she is an expert at meeting the needs of the end users.