IRIC Facility Manager Thrives on Building’s Various Projects
In many ways, Russ McClanahan is at the center of the University of Idaho’s ever-growing research mission.
As the facility manager for U of I’s Integrated Research and Innovation Center, McClanahan manages the requests that come into the IRIC Facilities Committee for the myriad research projects that use the newly minted $52 million interdisciplinary research space.
“Whenever a researcher is accepted, I have to know how the building can work with their research,” he said. The variety of research projects means McClanahan has to be flexible to accommodate the intricacies of individual projects. “I have to know ‘we can’t do this, but we can do this.’ “
Such management means faculty members who’d like to conduct a decade’s worth of research must first speak with McClanahan, just the same as students who’d like to use a conference room for a presentation.
“Working with researchers at every level is a lot of fun,” he said. “We have undergrad researchers in here, as well as our big one on the third floor — the Center for Modeling Complex Interactions.”
If there’s a technical need, such as adjusting individual concrete tiles on the building’s tile floor to run another conduit cable so a project can have more bandwidth, McClanahan is at the ready. He even helps with event planning for IRIC’s seven conference rooms and its atrium space.
With a background in electronics from the U.S. Navy and a microbiologist by training — he spent 10 years managing a microbiology research lab at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine — McClanahan is used to seeing research projects at work. He’s continually amazed, however, at the varying breadth of research that has taken up shop in U of I’s new building.
About 25 groups are doing research in IRIC’s various labs. Some occupy one or two offices for as little as two months, while the Center for Modeling Complex Interactions expands across a large chunk of the third floor for its long-term interdisciplinary studies in biomedical research.
The mix of experience is just as important as the varying research, he said. “I think it’s a really great thing for undergrad researchers to get to know large research projects and see ongoing researchers.”
Every aspect of the work McClanahan helps facilitate is done with safety in mind. He is chair of the IRIC safety committee — a task that remains a top priority when researchers are working with chemicals or other potentially volatile material for studies on everything from engineering to parasitology.
The building’s flexible design also allows for the free exchange of ideas. The open feel, with natural light and the ability for researchers to watch others’ work through the windows of lab spaces, is something McClanahan likes about the space. While having other researchers peek in the windows at specific projects can take some getting used to, McClanahan said it helps cultivate that collaborative approach U of I is taking in IRIC’s interdisciplinary laboratories.
“They’re all cool,” he said of the projects. “We’ve got some cool equipment. We’ve got some innovative projects in the building. I’m always going to be poking my head in.”
McClanahan encourages all Vandals – both researchers and those who are just curious – to look in the windows and ask folks about the work they’re doing.
“Even if you don’t apply and get lab space in IRIC, come use it,” he said. “We want it to be the focal point for research. Come over and have workshops in the conference rooms or just come over and have an informal meeting, have coffee.”