At NYIT, a science lab also working on the workforce

Golden lab: World-class biomedical and bioengineering research make New York Tech's new BSB Laboratory a 21st century workforce treasure.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

New York Institute of Technology’s brightest will multiply their minds in the university’s new Biomedical Sciences and Bioengineering Laboratory, where biology times engineering equals 21st century opportunity.

A bevy of state and local officials joined New York Tech President Hank Foley Monday to cut the ribbon on the new lab, occupying 1,000 square feet inside the Theobald Science Center on the university’s Old Westbury campus.

Principally focused on four primary objectives – involving bone regeneration, bacterial infections, synthetic biology and water/soil contamination – the BSB Laboratory will unite life scientists from the NYIT College of Arts and Sciences and engineers from the NYIT College of Engineering and Computing Sciences on a critical mission to dissect and respond to some of the world’s most vexing scientific puzzles.

For starters, earlier detection of the HIV and Zika viruses, mitigating the environmental hazards of stormwater runoff and a host of other frontline 21st century concerns – all with global implications, and all now being analyzed and (potentially) countered by “a broad range of applications in diagnostics, sensing, therapeutics and tissue engineering” in the BSB Laboratory, according to College of Engineering and Computing Sciences Dean Babak Beheshti.

Babak Beheshti: Integration motivation.

“This integration can offer tremendous opportunities for solving important problems in health sciences and medicine,” Beheshti said Monday. “With the substantial growth and expansion of research activities in the Biological and Chemical Sciences Department, as well as the bioengineering program at New York Tech, this lab will be a central component to support the research activities for the faculty and students.”

To get the ball rolling, the BSB Laboratory will house Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Azhar Ilyas, who’s focused on point-of-care diagnostics and “structural biomaterials” for bone regeneration, and Assistant Professor of Biological and Chemical Sciences Bryan Gibb, who researches the therapeutic potential of viruses and bacteriophages (viruses that attack bacteria).

Also hard at work: Assistant Professor of Biological and Chemical Sciences Navin Pokala, who leverages synthetic biology to better understand how the nervous system encodes behaviors, and Assistant Professor of Environmental Technology and Sustainability David Nadler, conducting a deep dive into water and soil contamination, with an eagle eye on perfluorooctanoic acid and the nefarious 1,4-dioxane.

The ambitious slate will doubtlessly require collaboration – within the BSB Laboratory, across the New York Tech campuses and beyond the NYIT system. This come-together mantra was among the many forward-thinking ideas behind the entire lab effort, according to College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dan Quigley.

Economic experiment: Foley and Curran tour the BSB, a “critical” workforce resource, according to the Nassau County exec.

“One of the great hopes of putting faculty from different disciplines in the same lab is that new ideas are developed – and, with these, new directions for the use of the lab,” the dean said. “Often, these new ideas do not come from any formal process, but from the normal give-and-take conversation of a shared workspace.”

The $750,000 laboratory – funded in part by a $150,000 grant awarded in 2018 through Albany’s annual Regional Economic Development Council competition – is another positive step in a “region that is becoming more robust when it comes to research,” according to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, among the dignitaries on hand for Monday’s ribbon-cutting.

“Combining engineering and life sciences research is really critical,” Curran noted. “You’re training for jobs we don’t even know exist yet.

“Thank you for staying ahead of the curve.”