It’s a circus out there

Rendering of the Collaborative Life Sciences Building.

By Jackie Wirz, Ph.D.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Portland premiere of Cirque du Soliel’s Ovo. It is an inspired performance that incorporates acrobats, aerialists, some pretty amazing trampolining crossed with rock climbing (!) and more than a few flamboyantly costumed bugs. The small size of the tent makes you feel like you are involved in a surreal dream that strangely involves feats of strength on a tightrope, acts of amazing coordination and skill, and a large, unexplained egg. For a couple of hours I literally felt like a kid again as I oohed and ahhed along with the rest of the audience.

This is the first Cirque performance I have been to, although I have for many years looked at the iconic blue and yellow tents when they were located on the South waterfront. I had an excellent view of the entire site, and would watch with interest as the tents gave life and whimsy to an otherwise empty lot. The stays, although oft extended, were always transient. Eventually I would look out of the window to find the lot strangely empty, the waterfront a little more drab and dreary.

Of course, now the waterfront is alive and busy for other, perhaps less flamboyantly costumed reasons. The Collaborative Life Sciences Building is rising out of the site even as the pedestrian/streetcar bridge begins to stretch across the river. The CLSB will be home to a variety of entities, including a state of the art minimal vibration laboratory, the new home for the School or Dentistry and even a satellite branch of the OHSU Library. (It is a deep hope of mine that it will also include a branch of the superb coffee shop Barista and a SW branch of the Breakside Brewery.)

I think it is exciting to watch buildings as they grow, but it will be even more interesting to see how the space affects our education and research output. The building will be home to tens of thousands of square feet of flexible laboratory space and the new home of the Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine. Moreover, it will be home to the D.M.D., P.A. and Pharm.D. programs, to name a few. As we recruit new scientists and students to take this space from a blueprint drawing to active participants in the research enterprise, I feel that our horizons as a research center are expanding as quickly as our physical footprint.

On one hand, I am sad that I will never again see the yellow and blue Cirque tents rise and fall on the SW waterfront. However, although construction of the CLSB will probably involve less spandex, glitter and unexplained eggs, it will nonetheless capture our attention and raise the bar for OHSU education and research. I think that is a spectacle worth oohing and ahhing over at any age.


Jackie Wirz is an Assistant Professor and the Biomedical Sciences Information Specialist at the Oregon Health & Science University Library. She earned her Ph.D. from Oregon Health & Science University in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and has a B.S. from Oregon State University in Biochemistry & Biophysics. Her research career has spanned 15 years and has covered diverse topics such as transcriptional regulation, macromolecular structure determination, collagen biophysics and DNA repair. Her professional interests include information, data, and knowledge management, as well as the publishing paradigms of scientists. Additionally, Jackie is a strong proponent of science outreach and volunteers with a variety of programs designed to promote scientific literacy.  Jackie believes in evolution, salted caramel buttercream and Jane Eyre.