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DOMED WORLD GETS NEW LEASE ON LIFE : STUDENTS ARRIVE AT BIOSPHERE 2.

Byline: Arthur H. Rotstein Associated Press

Two dozen college students and two high schoolers will spend four months studying at Biosphere 2, where a series of changes announced Wednesday may improve the facility's tarnished reputation.

The students were introduced as the first group who will spend the next semester under Columbia University's Earth Semester program at the 3.15-acre glass-and-steel domed ecological center.

Biosphere officials also announced that William Harris of the National Science Foundation will take over operations of the controversial center, which was built during the 1980s and designed to be a prototype for space living.

The facility is now managed and operated by Columbia, which is using it to study the Earth's environment. That's what attracted Nicole Forrester, 22, a graduate of Randolph-Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, Va., and one of the students who will live on the Biosphere grounds for the next several months.

``I've seen the environment become progressively worse, people not caring,'' said Forrester, who plans to attend medical school. ``I wanted to come out here with people who do care, go back and hopefully contribute to my community.''

Officials showed off changes inside the sealed compound, and spoke of plans to remove tons of soil from a half-acre area once used to grow crops for two crews that lived inside.

The soil's excess organic matter led to high carbon dioxide buildups and will be replaced within a year. The farm area will be divided into three sealed sections and planted with three varieties of trees to study long-term exposure to three varying levels of carbon dioxide.

Increased levels of the gas are expected to alter the Earth's environment in the next century.

Harris, a chemist and an assistant director of the foundation for mathematics and physical sciences, was named executive director and president of the facility.

``The Biosphere 2 Center is now a Columbia University institution,'' Harris said. ``We are celebrating a partnership that will work closely with Arizona's communities, its universities and colleges, and will reach out to outstanding universities throughout the world.''

Amy DeCrew, in her junior year as a biology major at Barnard College in New York City, saw Biosphere 2 as ``a chance to do something hands-on, a different experience from what we get at Barnard. I hope I will get a better understanding of a sustainable environment, the impact of humans and what we can do about it.''

Workers are renovating the area where the two former Biosphere crews lived during their missions. The living quarters will be part of a public visitors center for viewing other parts of the complex, including a rain forest, miniature ocean and savannahs.

Columbia took over research control of the $200 million facility in January under a five-year agreement with financial backer and owner Edward Bass.

In 1994, Bass made management changes to bring in respected scientists, which eventually led to the Columbia affiliation.

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Photo

Photo: William Harris of the National Science Foundation wi ll take over operations at Biosphere 2, now managed by Columbia University.

Associated Press
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 8, 1996
Words:508
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