U. of Arizona Has Big Plans for Research as New Tenant of Biosphere 2

June 26, 2007

Like a celebrity on a fifth marriage, the giant facility in Arizona known as Biosphere 2 has once again attracted a suitor with grand designs for research.

The University of Arizona announced today that is had leased the lab-with-a-checkered-past for three years to conduct scientific experiments. “Biosphere 2 will provide our faculty and students exceptional opportunities to address major environmental challenges facing Arizona and the Southwest,” said Robert N. Shelton, president of the university, in a news release.

The university is apparently getting a good deal financially; it will lease the 34-acre campus on which Biosphere 2 sits for a “nominal fee.” Grants and gifts will support the research and the cost of operating the facility, with much of the money coming from the Philecology Foundation, a charity in Forth Worth that was founded by the billionaire Edward P. Bass.

Mr. Bass financed the construction of the facility in the 1980s and the human missions in the early 1990s, in which a crew lived in the enclosure with 6,500 windows. Although the plan called for the experiment to be totally sealed off and self-supporting, the crew suffered when oxygen levels unexpectedly dropped because of unforeseen reactions with the concrete used in the construction.

Later, Columbia University managed the facility, but was eventually sued by Mr. Bass’s company, the Decisions Investment Corporation, for not maintaining its financial obligations. The facility and its 1,650 acres of land were recently sold to a development firm reportedly interested in the land around Biosphere 2. —Richard Monastersky