New Center for Ocean Education and Innovation Coming in 2025


Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences announced a $30 million expansion to its East Boothbay laboratory today, World Ocean Day. The new center for ocean education and innovation will support expanded programing and solutions-focused science. It is being funded in part by an $8 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation, which the institute also announced today.

“Research to understand the foundation of global ocean health will always be at the core of our work,” said Deborah Bronk, president and CEO. “But our staff has doubled since we moved into our current space in 2012, and I’m excited by the growing ways we’re sharing what we learn and applying it to pressing societal problems.”

Slated to be completed in spring 2025, the 25,000-square-foot addition will provide the resources needed to expand the institute’s education, collaboration, and workforce development programs. Teaching labs will enable scientists to provide hands-on education to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. They will also be used for the professional courses that bring people from around the state and country to learn advanced scientific techniques.

“Bigelow Laboratory is a place that keeps Maine on the cutting-edge of ocean science,” said Greg Powell, chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation Board of Trustees. “We are excited to again invest in this internationally renowned institute, and see its discoveries and expertise continue to advance education and innovation in Maine.”

A two-story forum will provide a flexible gathering space that will be used in education programs, as well as for public events – such as Bigelow Laboratory’s popular Café Sci talks, which draw more than 1,000 people each summer. The forum will also be used for scientific conferences and workshops that will help support the laboratory’s role as a hub for thought leaders from around the world to convene on the latest discoveries and applications.

Collaborative spaces for solutions-focused science will be another significant part of the new center, which is being designed by Harriman Associates of Auburn, Maine. Bigelow Laboratory has been rapidly expanding its applied research on opportunities such as seaweed and shellfish aquaculture, carbon dioxide removal techniques, and ocean forecasts powered by artificial intelligence. New laboratory space will allow for the growth of this work and the addition of four more research groups.

"What we’re learning is vital to understanding our planet and how our society impacts it, but that alone is not enough,” said Beth Orcutt, vice president for research. “The urgency of the global challenges we face makes it essential that we do all we can to help businesses, government leaders, and our society as a whole apply that knowledge as quickly and as effectively as possible.”

In addition to the Harold Alfond Foundation’s gift, the construction and future maintenance of the new center is being supported by $12 million in federal funding and more than $9 million from individual and institutional donors. Fundraising will continue through June 2024 to complete the resources needed for the center and the additional education, fundamental research, and solutions-focused initiatives it will enable. Since 2020, Bigelow Laboratory has raised more than $61 million from a variety of partners and donors to support the initiatives set forth in its 2020 Strategic Plan, of which the new center is a critical component.

“We’re incredibly grateful to our federal representatives, donors, and all those who are helping to raise these vital funds,” said Bill Burgess, chair of the board of trustees. “As the institute nears its fiftieth anniversary next year, this center for ocean education and innovation points to a bold vision for what Bigelow Laboratory will become during the next 50 years.”

Interested members of the community are invited to attend a special presentation about the new center at 12 p.m. on July 21 during Bigelow Laboratory’s annual open house. President Deborah Bronk will share an overview of the laboratory expansion and the ways it will support local and state-wide communities before answering questions from attendees. Science talks and hands-on activities for guests of all ages will also be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at this free event.

Photo: A rendering of the planned expansion of Bigelow Laboratory shows the new center in the foreground with the existing facilities behind.