New Tulane's Bywater Institute is a hub of science, conservation, and conversation

Oct 21, 2016

Oct 21, 2016 — Finding ways to protect the coast is one of the main priorities for Tulane's Bywater Institute, a new facility dedicated to applied research and community engagement concerning all coastal matters.

Nestled near the Mississippi River, and adjacent to the Port of New Orleans, the $5.5 million project spans 5,800 square feet, including amenities such as office space, labs, conference rooms, and an event room.  There is an additional 40,000 square feet of warehouse space for storing and staging vehicles, vessels, and field research equipment.

"The focus of the center is to answer simple questions, such as, "How much mud does the Mississippi River carry?" said Michael Blum, director of the institute. "While simple, it's a complicated issue to address as it lies at the core of science and engineering that has been done by the state." 

Mead Allison, a lead research scientist on coastal sedimentary processes, along with his team of researchers, will conduct tests on sediment and water samples taken from the Mississippi River to identify causes for erosion, scouring, and materials that are being deposited in to the river.  Allison's team will eventually partner with another research group that has seasoned experience on water to aid with comprehending river dynamics and with restoration planning.

The goal is to foster more partnerships with other coastal organizations to help carry out their mission. The institute has already partnered with The Water Institute of the Gulf, in addition to Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), by using their 116-coastal vessel called The Pelican.

Contrary to the architecture of most laboratories on campuses throughout the nation, which lack windows, thereby reducing the productivity, the Bywater Institute's labs are situated on the outside and include windows to produce the opposite effect.

To engage the community, a space called the Public Forum has a capacity for up to 135 people. It is reserved for a wide-range of uses; however, the goal is to stimulate conversations and create opportunities to interface.  According to Blum, since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, there is still a deficit in science communications.

While the facility has recently made its debut to the public, there are already talks of doubling or tripling its size.

It's location – within a few miles of Uptown, the West Bank, the Central Business District and the Lower Garden District – is a boon for generating interaction from the community on water issues that affect the area.

"As a research university, we often put research at the forefront and we often talk about its value, but in many respects building public awareness, bringing people to the river, telling stories about the river is arguably as important as doing any science," Blum said.