SIMS allows scientists to fish for facts

By Lauren Davis
Wednesday, 29 August, 2012

Hidden on the foreshores of Chowder Bay, Mosman, the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) has recently completed a 12-month upgrade at the cost of over $20 million, thanks to federal and state government funding. Once crammed into one small space, the facility now boasts seven laboratories, upgraded aquaria facilities, offices, conference rooms and more.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Emma Thompson has watched the upgrade progress from the early days of SIMS to its grand opening by the Minister for Science and Research, the Hon Chris Evans, in May this year.

Dr Emma Thompson with NSW Minister for Primary Industries, the Hon Katrina Hodgkinson, at the opening earlier this year.

“I had a basic lab before,” said Dr Thompson. “I used to have to take my work to Macquarie to do some parts of it because we didn’t have the facilities here before.”

Founded in 2005 as a collaborative initiative between UTS, University of Sydney, Macquarie University and UNSW, SIMS provides access to equipment and space for researchers from these universities, member universities and visiting scientists from overseas. There is space for around 40 people in the laboratories, as well as numerous project groups using tanks in the aquarium.

This is particularly useful for those students who require access to fresh seawater - something which the institute has plenty of, as Laboratory Supervisor Amanda Tupicoff explained.

“The aquarium facilities that we can now provide have fresh seawater pumping through every day. Local marine aquaria, such as those at our partner universities, have to rely on water collected and stored for periods of time. The facilities we can now provide, such as temperature control of air and water as well as pH manipulation, make SIMS unique,” said Tupicoff.

Of particular interest is the facility’s running seawater Physical Containment 2 (PC2) lab - one of only two at a marine research facility in Australia.

“There are certainly PC2 labs throughout Australia which can house some aquaria, but you can’t run an aquarium setting effectively in a PC2 lab to replicate nature, certainly not at the volumes we can access here,” said Tupicoff. “We have the ability to pump fresh seawater directly from the source, whilst being able to treat wastewater to ensure we can contain introduced factors such as metal contaminants, species or biocontaminants.”

The controlled environment room in the aquarium.

Dr Thompson added, “It’s something that would prevent a lot of work happening in other places, because of biohazards and biosafety. The PC2 means we can secure it for a certain project that wouldn’t necessarily be able to go ahead in universities, or in our general aquarium.”

Perhaps most impressive is the fact that the facility is contained in heritage-listed buildings - originally military barracks - meaning the upgrade had to be entirely internal. Tupicoff said this was a challenge, but worth it.

“The transformation inside has just been great,” she said. “We’ve gone from a single multiuse space to state-of-the-art facilities.”

Amanda Tupicoff and Dr Emma Thompson.

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