Smithsonian Inaugurates New Tropical Science Laboratory in Panama

September 23, 2016
News Release
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Exterior of new Gamboa lab

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s new Gamboa Laboratory in Panama represents a $20 million investment on the part of the U.S. government and private donors to support the Smithsonian’s grand challenge of “understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet.” It is the newest of a dozen laboratory and field research facilities that STRI operates in Panama.

“This building is a symbol of lasting friendship between the U.S. and Panama,” said U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley.

At the inauguration Sept. 21, preceded by a tropical downpour, Feeley joined STRI Director Matthew Larsen, Panama’s Minister of the Environment Mirei Endara Heras and Scott Miller, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Collections and Interdisciplinary Support, to underscore the importance of this new Smithsonian facility for tropical research.

“On behalf of the Smithsonian, let me thank our host nation of Panama,” Miller said, speaking on behalf of David Skorton, Secretary of the Smithsonian. “Their partnership in this endeavor has been invaluable.”

“Panama is a crossroads for science as well as a crossroads for commerce,” Larsen said. “We host scientific visitors from 55 countries, that’s about a quarter of all nations on Earth.”

Larsen thanked the architects at the Smithsonian’s Office of Facilities for creating a building that will be LEED certified and meets a number of different specifications, such as controlled temperatures and ventilation for animal-care rooms, which are not found anywhere else in Panama.

“This three-story, 4,000-square-meter laboratory, adjacent to Panama’s Soberanía National Park, will complement the Smithsonian’s original tropical research station on Barro Colorado Island, founded in 1923, by consolidating long-term terrestrial research on animal behavior, forest ecology, evolution and climate-change biology,” Larsen said.

The lab is also at the center of the Panama Canal Watershed, where information about ecosystem function and ecosystem services are vital to global commerce and where protection of the forest is directly linked to the security of the water supply for the canal and for half of Panama’s population.

Endara acknowledged the Smithsonian’s century-long history of research in Panama and mentioned important scientific contributions to conservation, including the management plan for Coiba National Park, a World Heritage Site; information leading to the establishment of two major marine protected areas; the designation of a Traffic Separation Scheme to protect humpback whale migration routes at the Pacific entrance to the canal; and several new publications of methods for reforestation with native tree species.

“Panama is the 10th most biodiverse country in the world when its size is taken into account,” Endara said. “And more than 35 percent of the country is under some kind of protection. Now more than ever we need scientific information to create resilience and more informed and environmentally conscious societies.”

“Two weeks ago, Panama was the first Central American nation to ratify the Paris Agreement,” Feeley said. “In my opinion, this government deserves special recognition for having taken the initiative to seriously address the issue of climate change.”

“As the Smithsonian’s founding Secretary Joseph Henry said: ‘All knowledge is useful; every part of this complex system of nature is connected with every other. Nothing is isolated,’” Miller said.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. Website:

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