Since arriving at Bigelow Laboratory in 2008, Graham Shimmield has been trying to bring more attention to the remote research lab tucked away by the sea at the end of a bucolic peninsula. While Shimmield says the lab is internationally renowned among scientists, it's off the radar for many Mainers, policymakers and even to some townspeople who live nearby.
So, though Shimmield started out in the rarefied domain of academia, the PhD scientist-turned-executive is now in charge of promoting the lab's cutting-edge oceanographic research while pushing the nonprofit into the hustle-and-bustle of commerce.
"I do see myself as implementing change," he says. "It's a cultural shift not away from individual scientific direction but in the way we put the science together." Shimmield envisions the lab becoming a more cohesive entity rather than an affiliation of scientists working independently, which will better position the laboratory to grow, "mainly through a shared sense of purpose and efficient use of resources," he says.
Shimmield is leading the 37-year-old lab through the biggest transition it's ever undergone, reshaping not just its culture, but also overseeing an expansion, with the two closely entwined. Last September, after receiving almost $19 million in public funding, the lab began building a new $32 million education campus on a 64-acre shorefront plot it purchased in East Boothbay seven years ago. The first wing will be finished in November. The lab's footprint will grow by more than 22,000 square feet to about 60,000 square feet, and it plans to expand its roster of senior scientists and research opportunities for students. The remainder of the campus' cost is being taken on by the lab in the form of a $13 million mortgage, according to Shimmield.
In the next five years, Shimmield wants the lab to increase its annual revenues from $7.6 million to $20 million, by hiring world-class scientists who do well-funded research, and by offering more services and products to businesses and educational institutions.
Shimmield last spring created a new corporate-focused position at the lab, hiring Mark Bloom as its director of corporate alliances and technology transfer. Bloom's job is to forge relationships with businesses to try to commercialize Bigelow's discoveries. The lab already has a history of this: It invented the powerful microscope called the FlowCAM, which is now being manufactured and sold by Yarmouth company Fluid Imaging Technologies. Bigelow has 20% equity in that company. Bigelow has also recently aligned with Kennebec River Biosciences in Richmond to help the company develop fish vaccines. And in September, it signed a long-term research agreement with a Rhode Island company producing algae for biofuel and human and animal food.
Bigelow will also ramp up its sales of algae strains, or phytoplankton, which it grows in West Boothbay, to universities and businesses developing biofuels, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals or waste-disposal technology from the simple organisms. "We're a mail-order lab," Shimmield explains, "like Jackson Lab. We do exactly the same thing they do [with mice], but with algae."
For Shimmield, growing Bigelow's reputation is more than just a strategic business move. It also highlights the important work being done at the lab. "I strongly believe that science needs to be seen and be heard, particularly among the people making decisions," Shimmield says.
"We directly do work on questions about ocean acidification, biogenic gasses and climate change, and changes in ecology that impact the food supply," Shimmield says, research that's helping reveal the effect of man's activities and climate change on oceans. "Why Bigelow as an institution matters and our reputation and quality of work matters is because we can reach the policymakers, the people who make decisions about whether to impose a carbon tax or reduce emissions or pass a clean air act."