Michael Gottesman

Futurism is back in style. At the risk of being overtaken by events beyond our control, it's often tempting to follow the lead of H.G. Wells and conjure up a picture of what the future may hold. At times of change -- such as the present -- it is reassuring to hear that our most cherished institution, that is, NIH, will be thriving in years to come. This two-part commentary is intended to give NIH scientists and support staff a glimpse into the likely future of our institution. Part I will address how the evolution of NIH's physical environment will shape our scientific lifestyle. Part II will detail science-management issues that affect the way we conduct research. The opinions expressed in this commentary are strictly my own and are based on what I see as the most likely course of events for NIH over the next couple of decades. Here are the assumptions:

The 1972 NIH Campus Master Plan -- the major document guiding physical changes on the main campus -- is now obsolete. A new Master Plan spanning the next 20 years is currently being drafted by the Office of Research Services. That plan, which must be submitted to Congress and the National Capital Park and Planning Commission by June 30, allows NIH to change its buildings and its infrastructure, such as electrical lines and roads, without getting explicit approval for each change, but still requires individual environmental studies. As might be expected, there is enormous interest in the new plan. The Office of Research Services is planning a number of opportunities for broad NIH input, and every scientific director on campus has already been interviewed. Meanwhile, Janyce Hedetniemi, director of the Office of Community Liaison, has established a working group of 35 community leaders to provide community input into the final product.

The new Master Plan will likely contain many of the following features: 1) modification of roads, walks, and bike paths to make the campus easily accessible to all, 2) demolition of Buildings 7 and 9 -- obsolete structures unsuitable for 21st century science, 3) conversion of historically significant Buildings 2 and 3 into office space, 4) construction of two new buildings -- a consolidated laboratory to replace Buildings 2, 3, and 7 and a new hospital with associated labs that will likely be attached to the north side of the existing Clinical Center, and 5) renovation of older research buildings, especially labs in the Clinical Center.

The overall effect of these changes will be to improve the utility, safety and appearance of NIH. Given the declining number of scientists on campus and a small net increase in total lab space, the average space per researcher should increase. From my perspective, this is an extremely positive development. Currently, our labs are entirely too crowded and our hallways are groaning with equipment and supplies. Relief is needed. In the short term, we must exercise restraint in the number of people we cram into available space. In the long term, the combination of a bit more space and enforced downsizing should improve our lab conditions.

Improvement is also on the horizon when it comes to the environmental challenges that face NIH and our neighbors. The Environmental Concerns Working Group, which has NIH and community membership, has set up several subcommittees to address concerns about medical pathological waste (MPW), bulk mail, and community health. The subcommittees have already made the following recommendations:

As an NIH scientist, before taking the helm of the Office of Intramural Research, I often felt that things just happened on campus without any input from scientists. Therefore, I want to seek your advice and keep you informed about the shape of things to come. Send your comments on this article to me via computer (e-mail: or FAX-BACK to The NIH Catalyst (fax: 402-4303).

Michael Gottesman
Deputy Director for Intramural Research

Time marches on. NIH's Bethesda campus circa 1951. Note that the Clinical Center is just under construction.

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