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Renovation making waves at U's St. Anthony Falls lab

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Studying algae
Algae and the effect of water flowing through algae are among the research areas covered by the University of Minnesota's St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.
Elizabeth Dunbar / MPR News

The University of Minnesota's famous lab on the Mississippi River is celebrating its recent renovation, which added everything from a new elevator to wave-making devices used for research.

  Built in 1938, the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory is known for many of its research facilities, including a channel that carries river water through the building at a rate of up to 2,200 gallons per second. Thanks to the renovation, researchers can now make waves in the channel, allowing for a variety of new projects, said lab director Fotis Sotiropoulos.

  "This is extremely important in being able to do research on off-shore wind energy and wave energy extracting devices," he said during a tour of the lab on Tuesday.

  Researchers are testing both underwater turbines as well as floating wind turbines that could be located miles off shore, he said.

A channel carries river water through the lab.
A channel carrying Mississippi River water flows through the University of Minnesota's St. Anthony Falls Laboratory to assist researchers on a variety of projects, such as testing energy-generating turbines placed underwater.
Elizabeth Dunbar / MPR News

  For example, Sotiropoulos said, some New England property owners oppose off-shore wind turbines unless they are located out of sight and "that creates engineering challenges that we're trying to address here."

  Other improvements included insulation for a wind tunnel that can now be used year-round and a new lab for studying the impact of water flow on green algae. And the lab's research on delta basins now includes the ability to make waves and use special scanners to acquire and analyze data on impacts to river deltas.

  Sotiropoulos said the renovation was focused on both repairing crumbling infrastructure and ensuring the lab will be relevant decades into the future.

  "There were basic building functions that we needed to address," he said, "but also we needed to give a new look to many of our research facilities to allow us to evolve our research to evolving society's needs related to renewable energy and environmental restoration of water resources."

  The St. Anthony Falls Laboratory received $7.1 million in federal stimulus money and $9.1 million in state funds for university capital projects.