With nineteen museums and research centers, the Smithsonian Institution is so much more than just the buildings on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In fact, if you drive about 33 miles east of the National Mall, you will find the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), located in Edgewater, Maryland, and this year, the site is celebrating its 50th Anniversary.
SERC was originally established in 1965 as the Chesapeake Center for Field Biology after Robert Lee Forrest bequeathed the land to the Smithsonian upon his death in 1962. The original land donation was 365 acres, but additional grants allowed the Smithsonian to purchase the surrounding land and increase the site to 933 acres by the end of 1969. Further funding and acquisitions have allowed SERC to expand to the 2,650 acres it currently occupies today.
Even though scientists began conducting research on the site shortly after it was acquired, SERC did not hire its first full-time resident scientist until 1974. By that time, more than 15 scientists were already conducting research at the center on everything from tidal marsh plant communities to water quality in Muddy Creek River on a regular basis. In 1975, the visitor’s center, now known as the Reed Education Center, officially opened as the first new building constructed on the site. In the early 1980’s, a laboratory building was constructed as a more permanent facility in which scientists could conduct their research on the area. The area was officially renamed the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in 1985.
A few years ago, SERC began remodeling the original laboratory, and last year they opened the brand new Charles McC. Mathias Laboratory, the Smithsonian’s first LEED-platinum building. The remodeled laboratory includes roof-mounted solar panels to provide hot water for the building, as well as additional panels which provide a portion of the building’s electricity. Also, 100 percent of the water used in the laboratory is recycled with all greywater being processed through an onsite treatment plant and then reused for things such as fire suppression and bathrooms. Additionally, three large cisterns, and a series of cascading wetland pools containing native plants, capture rain water for use in irrigation. The remodel included expanding the original building to more than four times its original size to make space for the ever-growing number of scientists conducting research at SERC.
In addition to the laboratory and education center, SERC has three different trails for visitors to explore. There is also a floating dock where visitors coming by water along the Rhode River can tie up before coming ashore to visit the facilities. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is open to the public Monday through Saturday, so be sure to check it out!
Mathias Laboratory Fact Sheet, The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center