Beckman Key Stop for International Visitors

The Arnold O. Beckman Rotunda Exhibit, one of the stops on offical tours of the Beckman Institute.

When visitors from around the world are given official tours of the University of Illinois campus, the Beckman Institute is often a must-see stop on the itinerary. Many times those visitors are from research centers in their own country, and see Beckman as an example of how to make interdisciplinary research succeed.   

When visitors from around the world are given official tours of the University of Illinois campus, the Beckman Institute is often a must-see stop on the itinerary. Those visitors have included royalty from Jordan, presidents of major universities, and world-renowned scientists.

Other VIPs from foreign counties and from here in America have been treated to an up-close look at Beckman research, facilities and building, but often it is the international visitors who are most intent on learning about the Institute. Many times those visitors are from research centers in their own country, and see Beckman as an example of how to make interdisciplinary research succeed.   

Tim Barnes, Director of Illinois Strategic International Partnerships of the Illinois International program on campus, said many foreign visitors know of Beckman beforehand and want to make it part of their visit to America.

“A lot of the times, especially those from East Asia, they will already be aware of it,” Barnes said. “Often, Beckman is requested by the visitors, which is very encouraging because that means they recognize that resource on the campus. I do think that these university presidents and vice-presidents know there’s a facility here that’s really worth seeing and is interesting and doing cool work.”

Often, Beckman is requested by the visitors, which is very encouraging because that means they recognize that resource on the campus.
– Tim Barnes, Director of Illinois International

Barnes said he has been playing host to international visitors for 13 years, and works with delegations before they come to America to find out their interests and the goals of their visit. Often it is to see firsthand how an interdisciplinary research facility operates.

 “They’re usually delegations of fairly high rank, from partner universities or potential partner universities,” he said. “So they are presidents and chancellors, vice presidents for research and things like that.

“The main reason that we include Beckman on the tours for academic delegations is because of the interdisciplinary nature of the center. And this is something that the campus takes a lot of pride in, the history of interdisciplinary research and the effectiveness of administering interdisciplinary research, which partner universities often find mystifying and very difficult to do.”

Barnes said those types of delegations are interested in different aspects of administering this type of facility, such as managing the relationship between the faculty’s home departments and funding streams.

“A lot of the delegations either ask specifically or we feel like it’s something that we should highlight about our campus, the strong interdisciplinary centers that we have,” he said. “They want to have a presentation about the institute that gives some of the nuts and bolts: what’s your staff like, what’s your faculty like, what are your resources. All of the stuff that you would imagine a vice chancellor for research or a chancellor from another university would be interested in knowing if he was thinking about setting one up himself.”

But that’s not the only reason the Institute is a popular stop. Beckman’s state-of-the-art facilities for imaging, visualization, simulation and microscopy are a draw, as is the building itself.

“We’ll tell them ‘well, the Beckman is a really good place to address some of those issues’, as well as just being a really fun, cool place to take them and show off the physical facilities, the building itself, and the view of the campus from the tower room,” Barnes said.

International visitors are not the only ones who are given official tours of the Beckman Institute. Sometimes a visit to Beckman is part of a faculty recruiting effort, or for a visiting VIP of one sort or another.

The point person for coordinating official tours at Beckman is Sue Johnson, Director of the Communications Office. Johnson works out the details of the visit and gives guests an overview of Beckman’s history, building, and research endeavors during stops like the Arnold O. Beckman Rotunda Exhibit and other building locales.

Johnson also works closely with Beckman facility managers to arrange tour stops at Institute facilities, including the Biomedical Imaging Center and the Imaging Technology Group’s Microscopy Suite and Visualization Laboratory. Staff members from these facilities explain their work and provide delegations with an inside look at some of the Beckman Institute’s most advanced research tools. Sometimes interpreters are along to translate.

Johnson said telling the Beckman story to visitors is important for the campus and for visitors.  

“The Beckman Institute is truly an interdisciplinary success story,” Johnson said. “The tours give us the chance to show visitors how we operate and how faculty from more than 44 different departments can come together to consistently generate ground-breaking research for over 20 years.”

Johnson said the Institute has been giving tours since shortly after it opened, and the majority of visitors come away highly impressed.

“Visitors are blown away by the diversity of the research at the Beckman Institute,” she said. “We have had countless guests who comment that they cannot believe it all happens here. The guests also always enjoy visiting the Arnold O. Beckman Rotunda Exhibit to hear the amazing story of his life and how his generous donation made the Beckman Institute possible.”

Typically, tours for international visitors take an hour to an hour-and-a-half and include a half-hour overview from Director Art Kramer, a general tour of the Institute, followed by visits to the Biomedical Imaging Center, the Microscopy Suite, and the Visualization Laboratory, with 20 to 30 minutes devoted to each facility.

“The tour guests are only here with us for a short time, but during that time we showcase the depth and breadth of the world-class interdisciplinary research that takes place at the Beckman Institute,” Johnson said. “We also try impress upon them how we invest in our facilities to provide our researchers with powerful and cutting edge equipment – and experienced staff – that can help them tackle their research needs and take them to the next level.”

Tours are also given as part of recruitment of faculty members to the University of Illinois and sometimes to Beckman. A new program at the University of Illinois is aimed at recruiting senior or prominent faculty who offer strength in interdisciplinary collaborations, especially in areas that also happen to correlate with Beckman research topics such as technology and human health.  

“I think that you guys do a great job,” Barnes said. “I take people on tours of other facilities around the campus, but I think you guys do a really good job of making them feel welcome.”

One special feature of a visit to Beckman for international visitors is seeing the flag of their home country as they enter the east atrium. The flags are positioned along with the United States flag on the second floor bridge of the east atrium.

“The flags are really a nice touch and they are meaningful to the people, as are the pictures that are taken and then given right then at the end of the tour,” Barnes said. “I’ve gotten people who have come back for a second visit with a different group and said specifically, ‘we’ve visited Beckman last time; I’d really like to take these guys there and share it.’

“It’s something that sticks out. Usually, these delegations that I deal with, they’ll be on a two week junket to the states and they’ll visit a dozen different universities. If they walk away saying ‘Beckman Institute’, and if they remember where it was and everything, that’s kind of a big deal.”