The new space at the Marine Lab includes a variety of facilities and teaching spaces.
Kristin Brunn / The Chronicle
The new space at the Marine Lab includes a variety of facilities and teaching spaces.

With the opening of the Orrin H. Pilkey Research Laboratory earlier this month, the Marine Laboratory campus gained its first new research space since the 1970s.

The lab includes a variety of facilities and teaching spaces and is named after Orrin Pilkey, James B. Duke professor emeritus of geology. Constructed primarily through $4.5 million from the Oak Foundation—a philanthropic entity that supports global, social and environmental issues—and a $1.5 million contribution from Kathy and Philip Froelich, the building opened after two years of construction.

“There has always been concern that the labs here [at the Marine Lab] are spatially separate from the main campus, that we are out of sight and out of mind,” said Pilkey, who first taught at the Marine Lab in the 1960s. “However, this time, we are still out of sight, but not out of mind.”

Bill Chameides, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment, said the lab provides facilities for molecular biology and genomics research—two new focuses of the Nicholas School—as well as a new teaching space.

The Pilkey Lab also has a number of environmentally sustainable features.

“The most significant thing about the building in an environment point of view, given that it is on the coast, is that it has been designed to withstand sea level rise and to withstand flooding—which will happen as a result of hurricanes,” Chameides said.

Chameides noted that the building is designed in such a way that all significant equipment and electronics are on the second floor or above in order to prevent damage from hurricanes, which have struck the Marine Lab's home in Beaufort on several occasions over the years. The bottom floor is also designed to allow water to flush through with minimal damage.

The decision to name the building after Pilkey was led in part by donor Philip Froelich, Trinity '68, a former mentee of Pilkey's.

“[Froelich] says that Orrin turned his life around, “Chameides said. “Orrin introduced him to marine chemistry, and [Froelich] is one of the world’s leading scientists now in marine chemistry.”

Froelich met Pilkey after struggling with chemistry courses as a student at Duke and came to view Pilkey as a mentor, eventually becoming one of his research assistants.

“The Marine Lab was really what got [Froelich] going,” Pilkey said. “Back then, you could only take summer courses at the Marine Lab campus, and he took every course there was and got all As.”

Chameides noted that such an experience is one that many undergraduates have, adding that the opportunity of spending a semester at the Marine Lab continues to attract many students.

“I run into Duke graduates all the time, and they tell me that the greatest experience they had at Duke was the semester they spent at the Marine Lab,” he said.

Pilkey said the construction of the new lab demonstrates strong support and allocation of resources toward the Marine Lab from Duke's main campus, noting that he feels the future of the Marine Lab has never been more promising.

“Nothing makes me more proud than this,” Pilkey said.

Pilkey has been a frequent guest lecturer at the Marine Lab campus since his retirement in 2001, though he joked that the allure of the new facility might make it so popular that he could have to “beg to be invited back into my own building.”

“It is beyond description how I feel about having the laboratory named after me. It is a great honor,” Pilkey said. “The Marine Lab has been an important part of my life for more than 40 years."