PITTSFIELD -- Area educators, investors, college students and a biotechnology firm are each taking their part in a critical local laboratory experiment.
On Tuesday morning, about 30 of these people gathered in a microbiology lab at Berkshire Community College to formally unveil the college's new super-computing cluster, a collaborative effort with Nuclea Biotechnologies of Pittsfield.
This high-tech research, teaching and learning collaborative also includes Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams and Clark University in Worcester.
In addition to linking to the new computer network, BCC also received a $168,000 grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, matched by Nuclea, for advanced biotechnology equipment to process DNA and proteins.
"These are the tools people like molecular biologists can use to look at proteins and genes without taking years to go through them," said Patrick Muraca, Nuclea's president and chief executive officer.
The hypothesis of this project, according to BCC President Paul Raverta, is threefold. If the partners provide the investment, infrastructure and instruction, then Nuclea will be better able to continue its research for individualizing treatment for cancer and other diseases; create a specialized future workforce in the life sciences; and create more opportunities for students to experience this growing field.
"Research is no longer primarily based in the test tube, but rather in analysis using large databases. This is the new world of the life sciences," Raverta said.
BCC Dean of Business, Science, Mathematics and Technology Charles Kaminski said his department has been working with the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council to create an associate in arts degree program with a biotechnolgy concentration. BCC offers one of eight such programs available through state community colleges to be certified by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Education Consortium.
This fall, eight students took the 12 spots offered in the new biotechnology course taught by Gina Foley, who was hired by the college as a result of its partnership with Nuclea. She said the successful student in her class has a background in basic chemistry, biology and math, as well as a willingness to work hard.
"Our class typically goes from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. But sometimes to I ask them to stay to 4 p.m. to finish. The amazing thing is not a single one of them leaves early," she said.
Tom Weber, Nuclea's chief information officer and vice president for information technology, talks to students about job options in the biotechnology field.
"When I was here at BCC in 2000, computer science was just about programs. Now it's so much more. What I do is one of at least 25 options of working in this field," he said.
To help offset costs for first-generation college students interested in studying in this field, Jennifer Kerwood, director of development and alumni relations at BCC announced a new scholarship fund named for Dr. Rollin Hotchkiss, first-generation college student who later became known as a pioneer in the area of DNA and genetic research.
The fund, which has a $10,000 endowment, will award its first scholarship in 2012.
For more information ...
What: BCC super computing cluster
Power and storage: The new cluster has the computing power of more than 1,000 processors, and has 14.2 terabytes of storage.
BCC bandwidth: 100 megabits per second on a Time Warner fiber optic Internet connection.
Cost: The equipment cost about $100,000 but fits into a space about the size of a mini refrigerator.