Austin: Sounds of science

Dr. Morris at work
Dr. Rebecca Morris uses a laminar flow hood to keep her research area sterile. In order to reach the work area, she has to pass her hands through a subtle, cascading "wall" of air.
MPR photo/Marc Sanchez

There's a faint smell of bacon that drifts into the air as you near Austin. The city of is nearly synonymous with Hormel Foods and, of course, SPAM. It's hard to ignore the Hormel brand name dotting buildings and factories as you make your way down I-90.

One of those buildings is the Hormel Institute - an agricultural research center started in Austin by the Hormel Foundation in the 1944. These days the institute is a world-class cancer research facility that partners with The University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic.

The institute draws scientists from all over the world. Dr. Rebecca Morris moved there three years ago from New York. She heads up the Stem Cells and Cancer research department, specializing in skin cancer.

Morris, also a musician, likens the sounds of her research lab to a symphony. The whir of water being distilled gives way to a clicking, spinning centrifuge. A burst of air from the laminar flow hood, which keeps her workspace sterile, is followed by the suction sounds that go along with feeding the lab's cells.

Morris is at the center of it all, a maestro conducting her symphony of science.

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