Before entering his lab, Ramon Flick puts on a 10-pound plastic space suit with a bubble helmet, a double pair of rubber gloves sealed to the suit at the wrists, and boots. The 35-year-old director of the Biosafety Level 4 lab at the University of Texas Medical Branch
at Galveston walks past a chemical
shower and into the lab space, a 2,000-square-foot sterilized white room. An airtight door slams shut behind him.

Underneath the floor of this room, in contrast to the stillness of the lab above, is a mosaic of pipes that noisily suck out air through doubled-up HEPA filters engineered to trap microorganisms as small as any yet discovered. Next to the pipes are a series of drains that monitor and sterilize each drop of wastewater leaving the lab before channeling it to sewers. The lab is negatively pressurized; even if there was a leak in the door seal when contamination occurred inside the room, air would rush into the room, not out from polluted areas.

Flick attaches an air tube to his suit. It blows up and stabilizes at about 70

Devil Inside

C.J. Peters’s lab in Galveston

Bioterror Boom

Flick at work in Galveston. Though it’s only a year old, by 2008 this BSL-4 lab will be joined by a $167-million facility the size of two football fields.

Peer Purview

“I don’t have concerns about us having a secret offensive biological-warfare program,” says veteran virus hunter C.J. Peters. “I’m concerned that everybody else thinks we do.”

Fog of War

Ramon Flick, director of the Biosafety Level 4 lab at the University of Texas Medical Branch, suits up for a date with Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever.