Telluride Science Research Center

Telluride Science Research Center Executive Director Mark Kozak, left, and board member Sally Puff Courtney. (Photo courtesy of Matt Kroll/Life Feeling Photography)

Telluride likes its secrets. Secret hikes, secret waterfalls, secret fishing holes, even secret menus. One of town’s best-kept secrets, though, may be the Telluride Science Research Center (TSRC), the largest independent molecular science center in the world. Established in 1984, TSRC hosts upwards of 50 meetings annually, bringing to Telluride around 1,300 of the world’s most eminent scientists each year, including five Nobel Laureates in the last six years. There was even a Nobel Laureate here just last week.

Remarkable as that is, this nonprofit is kind of below the radar, seeming only to surface in summertime when groups of visiting scientists — easily distinguished by their lanyards and khaki pants — can be seen around town, deep in conversation.

These conversations are vitally important and reverberate beyond the walls of our box canyon with the visitors collaborating, discussing and investigating in the relaxed, supportive environment that TSRC — and Telluride — can offer. Over the years, the results have included significant advances and new collaborations across a variety of scientific disciplines, according to TSRC Executive Director Mark Kozak. 

“TSRC scientists are working on everything from cures for Alzheimer’s and cancer, to revolutionizing battery design, to stronger and lighter materials for industry, to improving the capture of solar energy, to modelling precipitation, to purifying water, to protecting coral reefs, to searching for the conditions for life in the universe,” he said. “The range of science at TSRC is truly remarkable.”

The scientists leave inspired and brimming with shared ideas and knowledge, he added.

“We’re essentially exporting science from Telluride, and the impact this has is truly remarkable,” Kozak said. “Annually, we’re making scientists and engineers more productive at almost 500 domestic and international institutions.

“We are unique. This doesn’t really happen anywhere else in the world.”

Now, TSRC is turning to the Telluride community for support as it takes its next step: the purchase and renovation of the Depot building. With the Ah Haa School for the Arts due to move into its new digs at the SMPA Lot on the corner of Fir Street and Pacific Avenue next year, TSRC has the Depot under contract, and is looking forward to moving into its first real home.

Most basically, Kozak said, acquisition of the Depot will give TSRC the ability to hold meetings year-round. At the moment, scientists visit primarily in the summer and use vacant classrooms. 

“We have limited access to programming space,” he said. “Logistically, it has been difficult to organically expand, much less fit more than 50 meetings into this narrow window when we have access to the schools.” 

Kozak added, “I think it would be better if we could distribute our core season across the entire spring, summer and fall, than just across six or seven weeks in the busiest part of the summer. This would be better for our lodging providers, better for TSRC operations, but most importantly, better for our scientists. It would also allow us to add more meetings in the fall and winter. Currently, our annual total economic impact is approximately $12 million. It would be great if this could continue to grow, as more scientists want to come here.”

Logistics aside, Kozak pointed out that having a brick-and-mortar hub will enable the nonprofit to extend its community outreach as well, with the enhancement of existing programs — like TSRC’s Town Talks — and new programming, too. “I always want the community to feel like they are part of us and a part of what makes us successful,” he said.

And then there is the iconic, historic building itself. “The Depot has this enormous sense of place,” Kozak said. “It inspires people and we think it can have a very positive effect globally.”

A capital campaign is underway, headed up by TSRC’s newest board member, real estate broker Sally Puff Courtney. For the longtime local, this work is a labor of love undertaken on behalf of TSRC, an organization whose work she described as “exciting, thrilling … This is the only place in the world where these scientists truly get to collaborate with their peers. To be able to come to a place that is as special as Telluride, when you are trying to figure out world problems … it’s the best possible setting.”

Puff Courtney said that the campaign seeks to raise $8 million to fund the purchase, renovation and restoration of the Depot, which in turn will facilitate Ah Haa’s transition to its new building. TSRC also will be protecting the Depot as a community resource by putting it into a trust. “It’s a win-win for both the sciences and arts in Telluride,” she said. “This is a huge move for the entire community. This is going to benefit so many people.”

With this in mind, Puff Courtney is encouraging the community to get involved. “I would ask every person in town to give what they could, whether it’s $1, $10 or more. It will make a huge difference.”

For more information, visit telluridescience.org and click the “Donate” tab, or email Kozak at mark@telluridescience.org.