Students in several George Washington biology labs will have more opportunities for hands-on learning thanks to lab equipment donated to the university via an agreement with Vanda Pharmaceuticals, a local biopharmaceutical development company.
Vanda donated about $130,000 worth of equipment, including a spectrophotometer, three thermocyclers, ultra-low-temperature freezers and many sets of lab racks, pipettes and other basic lab gear. The donated equipment was used at Vanda, but the models are newer than the equipment used in teaching biology labs on campus, said Tom Russo, GW’s assistant vice president for industry research.
“This generous donation by Vanda Pharmaceuticals is a prime example of how faculty and students can see the direct benefit to them of increased involvement with industry and corporations,” Mr. Russo said. “This is a win-win for everyone. The university gains more equipment to carry out its mission, and hopefully industry will have more highly trained individuals to hire from GW.”
Vanda CEO Mihael Polymeropoulos said GW was a natural choice for the equipment for several reasons, including Vanda’s location as a neighbor to the Foggy Bottom Campus and his own close ties to the university.
“My conviction and commitment to GW goes beyond location and extends many years back, as an adjunct faculty of the genetics program and, most recently, with three of my children attending GW as undergrads,” Dr. Polymeropoulos said. “At Vanda we look forward to forging a strong relationship with the GW students and faculty for years to come.”
The equipment has been placed in teaching labs on the Mount Vernon Campus, where it will be used for molecular biology, physiology and genetics classes, introductory biology for non-science majors and a new biology class for the Women’s Leadership Program.
Professor Diana Lipscomb, chair of the biology department, said she appreciated the donation. The types of equipment that were donated get frequent use in teaching labs, she said. “This certainly helps us keep up-to-date, modern equipment in front of the students in their classes.”
Thermocyclers, often called PCR machines, are used to replicate specific sequences of DNA. Spectrophotometers measure the wavelengths of various light sources to determine how much of a particular substance is present in a sample. Both machines have multiple applications for teaching and for experimental research alike, Mr. Russo said, although the machines donated to GW will be used specifically for teaching.
Dr. Lipscomb said the Women’s Leadership Program, headquartered at the Mount Vernon Campus, is planning to increase the number of biology courses it offers, and the University Honors Program has plans to increase its honors biology offerings as well.
Dr. Lipscomb said both changes would mean increased numbers of biology courses taught at the Mount Vernon Campus. “This donation has taken away a financial burden and helped us out a bit," she said.
Dr. Lipscomb noted that her department gets much of its lab equipment for teaching and research via grants written by faculty members, but she would be open to considering other partnerships with industry.
Mr. Russo said that while the university has acquired considerable equipment through grants, they often come with restrictions on use.
GW alumnus James Pomponio, B.S. ’10, a Vanda employee, worked with Mr. Russo to help facilitate the donation. When Dr. Polymeropoulos suggested donating the equipment to GW, he asked Mr. Pomponio, who he knew was an alumnus, to help make the necessary connections. Mr. Pomponio said he was happy to help give back to his alma mater.
“From my experience at GW, I knew how much the biology department could benefit from this equipment,” he said.