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posted 02/18/02


Grand Opening of New "World of Discovery Tour" Inside Columbia University Biosphere 2 Laboratory
New "Under the Glass Adventure" is the most comprehensive tour inside the 3.1-acre living Laboratory, to date

TUCSON -- Columbia University's Biosphere 2 Center expands accessibility inside its $150 million world-renowned living Laboratory with the "World of Discovery Tour," the Center's most comprehensive tour to date, it was announced today by Biosphere 2 Center President and Executive Director Dr. Barry Osmond.

Employees and guests on the trail near the desert and savanna biome

"This is a wonderful opportunity for visitors touring Biosphere 2 to get an up-close look at this magnificent apparatus," Osmond said. "Careful planning went into creating this new trail, so as not to disrupt the integrity of the complex ecosystems inside. The professional staff and technicians, who planned and constructed the walkway, have done a marvelous job," Osmond said.

For the first time since the structure was built more than a decade ago, visitors can explore inside the 3.1-acre Laboratory on a fully guided tour. The new trail traversing most of Biosphere 2's wilderness ecosystems, allows easier access to the public as well as for the scientists and researchers conducting experiments, and students, who use the Laboratory for project studies.

Visitors can now travel an overland pathway through several of the terrestrial ecosystems that make-up Biosphere 2 including the Savanna, coastal Mangrove, subtropical thorn scrub, an ocean cliff overlook and the coastal fog desert, said Chris Bannon, chief of staff and vice president. "We built a working trail for researchers and students as well as an adventurous tour for visitors. Without compromising ongoing scientific experiments, we're satisfying our three key missions -- education, research and public outreach. What's exciting is that visitors now have a one of a kind opportunity to explore Biosphere 2 in an informative and entertaining one-hour tour," Bannon said.

The "World of Discovery Tour" starts in the Habitat operations center with the trail beginning in the upper savanna biome. The tour crosses the savanna stream to the 60-foot high ocean cliff overlook. From there, the trail weaves and descends passing through three distinct terrestrial biomes. The eco-adventure trail ends at the entry to a desert air plenum in the coastal fog desert. There, visitors again descend into the "technosphere," the area of Biosphere 2 that supports the multi-million dollar Laboratory. The tour continues down into a 150-foot underground tunnel that leads into an enormous geodesic dome apparatus called the "lung" -- a variable air pressure chamber designed and patented by Biosphere 2, which was used in the early 1990s to regulate and control air pressure within Biosphere 2. Inside the "lung," visitors look up to see a 26-ton aluminum disk with a large rubber diaphragm suspended from it. Throughout the one-hour tour, a guide will discuss current and past science experiments inside the Lab, the function and role of the complex life systems and other relevant topics. The trail, which is interconnected by a series of permanent steps and ramps, includes three overlooks -- vistas of the Ocean, Marsh, and Desert biomes - providing photo opportunities for tour groups.

The new "World of Discovery Tour," available seven days a week during business hours (8:30a. to 5p.), can accommodate up to 25 visitors per session. The tour will be closed to visitors when key research experiments are taking place in the tour path. Schedules and tour availability can be obtained by calling1-520-896-6200 or going online at Admission for the new tour will be $10 for adults and children (ages 6 and over). Children under 6 years of age, strollers and wheelchairs cannot be accommodated on the walkway due to ongoing, active research areas.

Planning for the estimated $200,000 trail began in August 2001. Biosphere 2's managers, researchers and technicians handled the construction of the walkway and the replanting of vegetation. According to Jim Davis, associate director of Biosphere 2 operations, who designed the pathway, all the material used for the trail's decking and railing is reclaimed and recycled, splinter-free decking lumber called Trex*. Some 16,000 linear feet of Trex lumber was used to build the 800 feet long and 48-inches wide path.

Open everyday, except Christmas, visitors exploring the Center can take self-guided tours, view exhibits that includes an ocean-viewing gallery and see the new visitors film, ‘Exploring Earth's Future,' hosted by William Shatner. In addition, there are evening stargazing programs at the Center's Observatory, where a new 24-inch telescope is available to the public. Program schedules are on the Biosphere 2 Web site. Regular admission to Biosphere 2 Center is $12.95 for adults, $8.95 for children ages 12 and over and $6 for children ages 6 to 12. Stargazing admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 12 and over. Children under 6-years of age are admitted free. Admission to the new "World of Discovery Tour" is additional. Biosphere 2 Center is Columbia University's 250-acre western campus devoted to deepening the understanding of earth systems vital to the policies and decisions that will affect Earth's future. The Biosphere 2 Center offers academic programs in earth systems for high school, undergraduate and graduate students as well as educational programs for 180,000 annual visitors and local school children.

*Trex decking and railing, a mix of 50/50 plastic and wood contains no toxic chemicals or preservatives. Trex is made primarily with recycled plastic grocery bags and reclaimed pallet wrap and about half waste wood from furniture makers and ground up pallets, using the best properties. In 2001, Trex decking used more than 200 million pounds of plastic and an equal amount of waste wood-materials that usually winds up in a landfill.  Trex Co. estimates that it utilizes 50% of the recycled plastic grocery bags and 20% of the stretch film available on the market. The material resists moisture, sunlight and insects.


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