We work on a small island at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.
It’s not as remote as it sounds. Isla Naos is one of three small islands in front of Panama City and is the site of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s (STRI) Naos Laboratories. In 1912 the islands were connected to Panama City by a 3 km causeway made from rock excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal. The causeway blocks currents and reduces sedimentation at the entrance of the Canal. And, of course, it means we can drive to work.
The Amador Causeway with Naos, Perico and Flamenco Islands.
It’s not just the large 1914 emblazoned on each end of the building that hints at its history. If you look carefully, among the lab benches and science equipment you can see traces of the building’s story. The third floor has strange metal poles scattered at inconvenient locations through the labs and offices. These turnbuckles actually act to suspend the floor from the ceiling.
The Collin Lab is officially in STRI’s building 359
but we call it the “1914 building”.
Turnbuckles hold up the floor.
Our 1914 building was originally a military building. Gun batteries and later missiles were stationed on the islands to defend the Canal. In the early days, trains were used to move the small guns from the islands to the mainland. A large space in our 1914 building was originally used to maintain these trains, and used to have tracks running along the floor. There was a large hoist on an H frame running most of the length and width of what are now the 1st and 2nd floors of the lab. The hoist had an electric winch that could lift rail cars from the track and move them to the side for maintenance. Now, 100 years later, this historic building houses modern scientific equipment.
The 1914 building circa 1970.