Announcements From the VPR

Research Insights

UGA Instrument Shop – building research capacity

About six miles from campus, in a plain, single-story brick building on Whitehall Road across from Peppino’s Pizzeria, is a hidden treasure for UGA researchers. This location is the home of the Instrument Design & Fabrication Shop, a full-service machine shop that provides investigators with the capability to build—sometimes from no more than a back-of-the-napkin sketch—the equipment and tools needed for their projects.

Led by manager Carlos Barrow, the instrument shop can help design, build and/or repair an incredible range of devices, containers and other research-related apparatuses. It boasts an array of mills, lathes, presses, saws, welders, 3D printers and other tools, as well as a dedicated team of professional machinists and welders.

One example of the Shop’s projects is the water tunnel built in 2018 to support the research of Ben Davis, now an associate professor in the College of Engineering. This room-sized contraption, 35 feet long with 2,800-gallon water capacity, uses a 125-horsepower electric motor to push water and help test and enhance the performance and viability of a variety of structures in high speed flow as well as assess the ability to use flow to produce electricity (think rockets, marine vehicles, drones).

This incredible research piece is also one of the fastest university-owned water tunnels in the country, capable of moving 275 gallons across its full length in one second. Most remarkably, it was built right here, in our own instrument shop.

Another shop project example is the 3D root phenotyping platform built for Alexander Bucksch, associate professor of plant biology in the Franklin College of Arts & Sciences. This device can measure architectural traits of excavated maize root crowns. Dubbed DIRT/3D by Bucksch (for Digital Imaging of Root Traits), the system uses motorized cameras to take 2,000 images per root from seemingly every angle. Using micro-computers to synchronize the images captured from ten cameras, the device transfers the data to the CyVerse Data Store—the national cyberinfrastructure for academic researchers—for 3D reconstruction. Researchers use the 3D renderings to study the relationship of root systems to plant function and yield, e.g. to influence global food needs in changing ecological environments.

To read about more of the instrument shop’s fabrication projects, take a look at its brand-new website. Among the improvements is an online submission form that allows researchers to send device designs, from the simplest to those with detailed specifications, and determine whether it can be built, how long the building process would take, and how much the device would cost. I’m very grateful for our skilled Shop team.

The instrument shop is one of many UGA resources available to investigators to help build equipment or gather data. Another is the Scientific Glass Blowing Shop, managed by the Center for Applied Isotope Studies. The glass shop can fabricate, repair or modify all types of glassware to meet the needs of researchers, and the work can be truly beautiful.

Both of these shops are among UGA’s core facilities, which offer a wide range of equipment and services to the UGA community, as well as to outside universities and industry. Our core facilities, many of which are managed by the Office of Research, can help with everything from bioexpression and fermentation, to electron microscopy and isotope analysis, to recruitment of clinical research volunteers, to name just a few services.

I’m proud of the variety and quality of research services we provide, both to our own investigators and to the clients we serve from far beyond the university’s borders; we’re constantly striving to improve our services. As we begin another exciting academic year, I hope UGA’s core facilities, like the Instrument Design and Fabrication Shop, both help you and inspire you.

Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research