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This Laboratory Is Alive

The minute you walk into Drexel's Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building, you're guaranteed to notice two things: the four-story helical staircase and North America's largest biowall. Both are architectural innovations that showcase our dedication to science and engineering, but one of them could also point the way to a more sustainable future.

Visually, the biowall is pretty much what it sounds like — an 80-foot-high, 22-foot-wide surface composed of more than 10 varieties of tropical plants that grow without soil. The overall effect is both beautiful and soothing. It's also purifying, because those lush plants act as a filtration system, absorbing and breaking down pollutants to generate clean air for the building.

Of course, when you place a new design structure with implications for the study of ecology, biology, engineering, and more on a campus full of world-class academics, you're going to generate some curiosity. At Drexel, curiosity leads to action.

Dr. Shivanthi Anandan and Dr. Jacob Russell from the Department of Biology and Dr. Michael Waring from Drexel's Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering Department are leading a team that includes Drexel undergrads in the Students Tackling Advanced Research (STAR) and cooperative education programs in a study of air quality and purification as well as microbial root communities. So the biowall is not only beautiful and functional — it's also a living laboratory.

You can learn more about the biowall at the College of Arts and Sciences' Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building site. Better yet, visit it on campus and take a breath of fresh air.