“So you just came here and visited all of campus without telling anyone?” asked Jon Atherton, Associate Director of Communications of Yale West Campus. He had just learned that I’d spent the past hour and a half wandering around the laboratories and natural spaces on West Campus, peeking into certain buildings that I did not have access to.
Yes, that’s what I did. On a brisk Tuesday afternoon during spring break, I took the Purple Line shuttle from 300 George Street—which arrived 20 minutes late, or more likely, skipped a shift completely—and visited West Campus.
“Well, anyone is welcome at any time,” Atherton said. Any student or scholar, affiliated with a West Campus institute or not, can visit and use its equipment.
Before 2007, what is now Yale West Campus was a Bayer Pharmaceutical R&D plant. Yale bought this 136-acre plot to expand science and engineering research at the university. That was one-third of Yale’s total area at the time, so the administration hoped to make this space unique. “It was decided that we would have these institutes that could focus on a common problem and bring lots of different scientists together,” Atherton explained.
Now West Campus, located a few miles from Yale’s central campus, supports scholarship in health, energy, sustainability, and archeology, with state-of-the-art research equipment and interdisciplinary institutions. Its scholars come from different backgrounds of study, but they collaborate with each other on research and bond through symposia, retreats, and grabbing lunch at West Campus Café.
Labs on Science Hill and in Medical School buildings are organized with offices on one side of the corridor and lab spaces on the other. Principal Investigators have their own offices while graduate students and postdocs share offices where meetings, readings, theoretical work, and casual chit-chats take place. They go to the lab across the hallway to work on experiments. The West Campus Institutes, by contrast, were designed to be free-flowing and open. I walked into the Cancer Biology Institute, expecting a corridor, but finding myself in front of a bench. “We have different disciplines, working on benches next to each other, without any walls,” Atherton explained.
Main campus labs can have multiple projects, but they focus on similar problems, like RNA catalysis, plant circadian clocks, or the structure of a protein class. The West Campus institutes, on the other hand, promote interdisciplinary research for a common goal centered around application. Associate Director of Research Operations Kim Heard wrote to me about some of the projects that would have been impossible without the convergence of different fields of expertise. At the Systems Biology Institute, Jesse Rinehart examines the role of protein phosphorylation in glioblastoma and Farren Isaacs engineers bacteria to mass-produce molecules of interest. Rinehart and Isaacs are now using “bacterial factories” to develop treatments for glioblastoma. Microbial Sciences Institute faculty members Eduardo Groisman, Jun Liu and Andrew Goodman have expertise in genetics, high-throughput cryo-ET, and the gut microbiome, respectively. Recently, they collaborated to uncover a novel mechanism by which ‘good’ bacteria colonize the gut.
West Campus also has a plethora of advanced equipment. The research cores house microscopes, spectrometers, an electron beam evaporator, and more, which are open to students and scholars from all over campus. “We have scientists from the Medical School, School of Engineering, and Arts and Sciences using our core lab facilities,” Heard said. The Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage is one of the biggest buildings at Yale—it used to be where Bayer workers put on the suits and pressed the pills. It has giant libraries of off-exhibition items from Yale’s three museums and conducts imaging and material analysis research on these collections to inform fields as varied as proteomics and data science.
Another venue that ties together students and faculty from across Yale’s campus is the West Campus Conference Center. “The Conference Center hosts several weekly events ranging from small lab meetings to 200+ person symposia and retreats,” Events Coordinator Jessica Criscuolo wrote to The Herald. “On May 30th, our students will host the fifth annual All Points West Conference to showcase the research of trainees throughout campus. That event alone brings together our 7 Institutes and Yale School of Nursing, connecting the fields of health science, energy science and cultural heritage.” Daniela Flores ’25 did a summer communications internship at West Campus last summer. “Most of the labs would eat together in the dining area,” she said. “There were food trucks and an ice cream truck right outside the conference center. It was free for everyone. There were cookouts every Friday. You have everyone from Principal Investigators to undergrads enjoying the same space.”
The people all share the space at West Campus with each other—and with wildlife as well. Coming off the shuttle, the first thing I noticed were mysterious pieces of seemingly soft, dark green masses on the sidewalk. I soon identified the culprits: fifty geese on an enormous area of grassland. Flores told me about the natural scene in warmer weather: “You can just sit outside with the geese. There are also lots of birds, and different plants. People who do the landscaping work very hard to include various plants. It looks very nice.”
Atherton emphasized that West Campus has close ties to Yale’s main campus. “We are Yale University, you know. Though the physical spaces are separate, there is no boundary for people at Yale coming here and using this campus. It’s theirs too.”
Honestly, except for punctuality issues that I experienced—and according to Flores, the shuttles were rarely late for her—getting to West Campus only took 15 minutes. And if you take the Purple Line, you’ll see the sea on your way back. West Campus always has its doors open to the other parts of Yale—and it is only a shuttle ride away.