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Montana State University's Wool Lab moving to new location after over 75 years

Wool Lab
Posted at 8:18 AM, May 26, 2024

BOZEMAN — The wool lab has been on the Montana state university campus for over 75 years, but no one seems to know whats going on inside. I asked some people nearby, if they knew anything about the wool lab.

“I mean, we walk by this building every day, almost every day,” said one passerby.

“Do you know what goes on inside?” I asked. “No, not really. I have no idea,” he replied.

I asked another person, “Do you know about the wool lab?” She said, “I do,” but when I asked, “Do you know what goes on in there?” “I don’t,” she says.

You may recognize this mysterious white building on the corner of 11th and College. That building is the Montana Wool Lab. Built in 1947, it’s the only university-associated wool lab in the nation.

I asked Brent Roeder, an MSU extension sheep and wool specialist, “Can you tell me what you do here at the wool lab?. He told me, “Mostly what we do here is run samples of wool to help growers capture value-added processing.”

In simpler terms, this lab researches wool quality for wool producers around the state and region, so they can create sustainable wool clothing. Brent has worked in the wool lab for 30 years. He tells me the issue they’re trying to solve?

“We’re importing about 8.5 billion pounds of plastic fabric a year into the United States. That's about 25 pounds a person per year. That fabric takes about 10,000 years to break down.”

Which is why the wool lab works to create 100% American made, biodegradable, and sustainably produced clothing options.

But Brent tells me it’s been hard to conduct research in a building that's over 75 years old. Especially when wool testing is such an intricate process and humidity needs to reach certain levels. So what have they been doing to solve this issue?

“So every morning we load up our buckets with hot water and place them around the room. The temperature starts to drop or the humidity starts to drop we have to fill them up again.”

Says Liz Maxwell, a co-manager of the wool lab. She tells me, researchers also mop the wooden floors to gain humidity. Which is a hassle and why everyone involved at the wool lab could not be more excited for the new Combined State Labs building.

Friday afternoon, the ceremonial groundbreaking for new labs took place on the Montana State University campus. This multi-use agricultural building will house the Montana Department of Livestock’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, the Montana Department of Agriculture’s Analytical Lab and the MSU Wool Lab.

“Personally to me it means that the state and Montana State University are investing in the future of the wool industry in Montana. I'm not building it for myself. I'm building it for my grandchildren and my friends' grandchildren,” says Brent.

The new lab is expected to be completed by 2026. The wool lab will completely uproot and move into the new building. What will be done to the over 75-year-old relic they’re in now? That remains unknown.