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Inside Look: Science centers

Under the microscope: Dissecting the new science center
University Business, May 2014
  • A sustainable science lab LEED Gold-certified Battelle Hall at Ohio Dominican University is a place where students can study traditional science disciplines and sustainability at the same time.
  • Ohio Dominican University Messer Construction
  • The Undergrad Chemistry Teaching Laboratory at the University of Rochester in New York
  • Central Oregon Community College
  • Robert H.N. Ho Science Center at  Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y
  • Hudson Valley Community College
  • Sewanee: The University of the South
  • Sewanee's four-person workstations are designed for team-based collaboration and project work.  Environmentally friendly hoods operate like a  fireplace, creating a vortex that keeps fumes from wafting into the lab. They also use less air than old hoods, resulting in a 20 percent energy savings.  Architect: Ballinger Architecture (Philadelphia);  Contractor: Roy Anderson Corp. (Gulfport, Miss.)
  • Fostering interdisciplinary research: The Molecular Core Lab inside Furman University’s Townes Science Center—a LEED Gold facility that includes a 150,000-square-foot renovation and two new wings totaling 90,000 square feet—supports interdisciplinary research among biology, chemistry and neuroscience students at the Greenville, S.C.-based school. Classrooms are interspersed with  glass-front labs with built-in display cases. The labs include cell culture facilities, modern instrumentation, a darkroom and ad
  • Piecing the lab together: Endicott College’s Judge Science Center, which along with the business school was completed in September 2013 for $15.9 million, is the hub for the life science program at this school, located in a Boston suburb. It offers an advanced computer lab and eight light-filled classroom labs to support robotics, chemistry, molecular biology, environmental science, microbiology, anatomy and physiology. This chemistry lab and others like it are designed with adjustable work spaces and snork
  • Not-so-mad science lab Austin College’s LEED Gold IDEA (Inquiry, Discovery, Entrepreneurship and Access) Center comprises 32 laboratory classrooms, 40 offices, 16 lecture rooms and a 108-seat auditorium. The new Sherman, Texas, facility, which opened in August 2013 and cost $38 million, is home to the environmental science, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, computer science and mathematics departments. The IDEA Center is also home to the Adams Observatory, which houses a 24-inch telescope similar i
  • Hands-on training center: Nursing students at the Gerald T. and Bonnie M. Brouder Science Center at Columbia College in Missouri get hands-on training  in this lab, using medical equipment, technology and simulator  mannequins. They also can interact with students from the biology, chemistry, forensics and environmental science programs because the $14 million center, which opened in August 2013, has brought all science programs under one roof. Architect: Simon Oswald Architecture (St. Louis); Contractor: R
  • Seeing the writing on the wall: In the Science Learning Collaboratory at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, labs include glass walls that can transform to opaque writing surfaces. The 3,000-square-foot facility, which was built for $1.7  million in partnership with nonprofit Howard Hughes Medical Institute, combines versatile bench space and mobile services, maximizing student engagement and room use to adapt to any pedagogical research need.
  • In the fall, UMBC will pioneer a new concept in collaborative teaching by bringing together faculty from six disciplines—biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, environmental science and math—to co-teach a course for students in these areas of study. Architect: HDR Inc. (Omaha); Construction manager: The Whiting-Turner  Contracting Company (Baltimore)
  • Reinventing the science classroom: Eastern Kentucky University is moving away from lecture-only classrooms and creating lecture-labs. All classrooms in phase I of the science building, completed in January 2012 for $64 million, have configurable tables and chairs, and the previously separate lecture and lab classes have been combined. The new space allows for hands-on, collaborative work. Architect: Omni Architects (Lexington, Ky.); Contractor: Denark Construction (Knoxville, Tenn.)
  • An Eastern Kentucky University graduate student works in a research lab while his professor looks on.

Of all the new ideas bubbling to the surface in building state-of-the-art science centers, the one theme that was constant across all Inside Look submissions was creating spaces that foster collaboration—both among students and teachers within a specific science, as well as across all science disciplines. One school even calls its science center a “collaboratory.”

This collaboration is hardly contained to the classroom. Higher ed institutions are so focused on bringing groups together to develop ideas and solve problems that they are designing lobbies, atriums and common areas for small-group gatherings. These spaces include inviting nooks and private areas with couches and tables to accommodate both planned and impromptu discussions.

Colgate University’s Robert H.N. Ho Science Center, for example, is organized to foster conversations among biologists, physicists, geologists, environmental scientists and even geographers—who are traditionally thought of as being from a social science rather than a natural science, according to Professor and Biology Chair Kenneth Belanger.

“The new faculty hires moving into the Ho,” he says, “are people who think across disciplines.”

Just as important as collaboration, we found, was transparency. Having an open, inviting atmosphere was identified as a key trait among newly built science centers, which feature bright, welcoming atriums, glass walls and large windows—some looking out onto the street to integrate the school into the community.

Inside the science center, keeping up with ever-advancing technology is a constant challenge.

“We have been increasing our inventory with equipment that students will need to know how to operate and maintain when they complete their degree,” says John R. Thistlethwaite, assistant professor in the exercise science program.

New additions include software programs such as Power-Point, Prezi and Flash, as well as technologies such as thermo-cyclers, multiple mini gel electrophoresis rigs with transblotters, high-performance liquid chromatographers, an interpretive EKG, a metabolic analysis system, Doppler ultrasonography, nuclear magnetic resonance and a plate reader.

With the price of technology coming down, Belanger says that now they have classrooms with computers at every desk, which allow for complex bioinformatics, systems biology, biostatistics and geographical information systems to be learned through active methods within class.

“We also have a fluorescence microscopy teaching and research lab with all of the microscopes linked to a large, flat-screen monitor that allows images to be projected for the whole group,” he says.

As research becomes more computational in nature, Colgate is also providing access to virtual labs that offer high-performance computing for both faculty and student researchers. With this desktop technology, students can access scientific applications online through their own computer that might not have otherwise been available.