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Growth in US Academic Lab Space Driven by Bioscience Research

Biology and biomedical research labs at US universities grew during the two years between fiscal years 2009 and 2011, at least in terms of sheer space, as the amount of square feet devoted to the biosciences increased 8 percent from 50.3 million to 54.3 million.

A new analysis by the National Science Foundation says that the growth in biology and biomedical research space at academic institutions led all scientific disciplines, which grew overall by 3.5 percent over the two-year period.

Although that growth in total net assignable square feet, or NASF, dedicated to academic bioscience may be welcome news to a sector that has seen funding from federal, state, and other sources flag during the course of the recession, this expansion actually represents a slowdown in the growth rate; the two fiscal years between 2007 and 2009 saw an increase in biology and biomedical NASF of 12.3 percent.

Taken together, the science and engineering research sectors increased their research space by 3.5 percent, from 196.1 million to 202. 9 million NASF, which is less growth than the median rate of increase of 4.7 percent NSF found over the past 11 surveys, dating back to fiscal year 1988.

The news of the growth in research space also may tempered by the report's finding that new construction in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 declined by 18.2 percent from the previous two fiscal years. For the biosciences in particular, new construction between 2010 and 2011 accounted for 2 million NASF, a decline of 1.5 million NASF from the prior two-year period.

Academic institutions also appear to have fewer plans to construct new research space, when compared with the growth of the past decade, and low growth may be likely for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the report's author, Michael Gibbons, a project officer in the NSF's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, tells the Daily Scan.