Two of Loudoun’s representatives on Capitol Hill got a peek inside one of the most highly regarded and advanced research institutions in the world last week—Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rep. Jennifer T. Wexton (D-VA-10) were onsite Friday, Oct. 9 for a personal tour of the campus, where scientists in biology and neurobiology are free to explore new areas of research, collaborate, and invent new tools.
In one lab, Advanced Engineering Facility Director Anthony Leonardo showed Warner and Wexton how, when research work ground to a halt with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the scientists there responded to help out.
“We were really kind of collectively having this feeling of, if only we could do something to help out in any way we could,” Leonardo said. And they found one—Leonardo demonstrated how the lab can use its laser cutter, mylar, and a few basic components to make a face shield in a matter of seconds, and said they had distributed around 3,000 of them. He called it “a small impact, but a nice one.”
The halls of the campus are still mostly empty—like many people, researchers at Janelia who don’t have to be physically in the lab are working from home.
Being independently funded by Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said Executive Director Ron Vale, allows scientists at Janelia to have longer-term visions and pursue more advanced science with less certain results.
The research facility is built into a hill at the former Janelia Farm, built in 1936 for Vinton L. Pickens—the chairwoman of the county’s first Planning Commission—and her husband Robert. Today, the farmhouse still stands on the property and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.