Science on Display

7 February 2017

Science Facility Rendering - Bald Spot viewCarleton’s new science complex will invite everyone in, putting research front and center.

Carls ask tough questions. They also get their hands dirty and solve problems. This hands-on style of teaching is one reason Carleton has always been strong in the sciences. The new science complex is designed to better support an approach to science that embraces vibrant, immersive learning. The project kicks off this summer with the decommissioning of Mudd Hall, which will be razed to make way for the new construction.

“The vision for the new facility is a more integrated science education,” says biology professor Fernán Jaramillo, who chaired the planning committee for the new complex while serving as associate dean. “In the past, and in many places still, science is fragmented. People said, ‘I’m a chemist,’ or ‘I’m a biologist.’ But if you look at complex science problems, they’re not narrowly defined like that.”

Science Facility Rendering - Olin EntryToday’s big questions—from renewable energy to disease treatments—demand partnerships among scientists who classify themselves as biologists, chemists, computational scientists, physicists, psychologists, geologists, and more. Given this state of science, Jaramillo says, having three isolated science buildings no longer offers the best education. The new construction will join with Olin and Hulings into one complex where students and faculty members can easily interact with peers in other disciplines.

“This space will foster collaboration,” Jaramillo says, “and it promises to transform how science is taught at Carleton.”

The science project has four broad goals, says Gretchen Hofmeister ’85, associate dean of the college and professor of chemistry:

  • integrate the sciences
  • support and enhance research
  • welcome in the wider community
  • be energy conscious

Science Facility Rendering - Collaborative SpaceWhen the building is finished, chemists will be meeting with biologists in the atrium, physicists will be working with geologists in the maker’s space, computer scientists will be partnering with neuroscientists in Olin labs—and everyone will be engaging in a vibrant learning community.

“Science is not a spectator sport,” Jaramillo says. “Students need to get engaged and get into their research. Carleton has been very good at involving students, particularly women, in science, and this new facility will only increase that.”

Read on for more drawings and details on this innovative project. As construction commences, you can also follow project updates at

The science complex will transform science teaching at Carleton. It is designed to foster collaboration—not only among the sciences, but with other academic disciplines.

Science Facility Rendering - GIS LabThe new facility will feature:

Computing Power

With the computer science department relocating to Olin Hall, their computational research suite will be integrated with research space for theoretical physics and chemistry, which will afford opportunities for good partnerships among the computer scientists and other natural scientists.

Science Facility Rendering - Glass LoungeGlass, Glass, Glass

To put science on display in a welcoming environment, the building will need glass—lots of glass. Glass walls and large windows will allow students and visitors to see the work happening inside classrooms and labs. A central glass atrium will create a bright, sunny atmosphere where students—science and non-science majors alike—will want to gather. “One of our primary goals is to break down the idea of science as a fortress,” says Gretchen Hofmeister ’85, associate dean of the college and professor of chemistry. “We want to make this an inviting space, and the glass is a huge part of that.”

Science Facility Rendering - LabSafe and Eco-Friendly Labs

Over time, safety standards shift for working with chemicals, lasers, power, and gases, and Carleton needs to keep its facilities up-to-date in order to protect its students. Likewise, ideas about protecting the environment have evolved, and more scientists are utilizing sustainable approaches made possible by advances in energy efficiency. To be good environmental stewards, Carleton plans to have a net zero increase in energy use even though the new facility will add over 50,000 square feet.

Science Facility Rendering - Lower LevelA Fine-Tuned Floorplan

Carefully organized blueprints further promote collaborative learning. Unlike in current science facilities, teaching and research will be integrated. “We are positioning teaching labs and classrooms and instrument rooms so they are all adjacent,” Hofmeister says. This further breaks down the “fortress” idea by exposing even intro students to advanced research. Research follows a process, with distinct phases requiring different spaces, and in the new complex laboratory classes can begin in a classroom to discuss the design of an experiment, move seamlessly into an adjacent lab to conduct the experiment, pop into the instrumentation room to grab a tool, and easily move back to the classroom again for discussion, analysis, and planning for further testing. Right now, Hofmeister says, teaching labs are so far from classrooms that teachers often need to take students into a hallway to discuss and analyze experiments. “We moved to project-based learning many years ago,” Hofmeister says, “which is one of the reasons Carleton has been so strong in the sciences. This new facility will better support how we teach.”

Science Facility Rendering - East FacaceA Maker Space

An essential component of project-based learning is a maker space, which is currently in the basement of Mudd Hall. In the new science complex, however, the maker space will be centrally located with more glass windows to draw in people from all disciplines, including non-science fields. Students can use the maker space to build prototypes—for example, Hofmeister says, computer science students may use the space to build prototypes of robotics they are designing.