2 August 2016

Carleton is building a science complex specifically designed to foster collaboration among the disciplines. Watch what happens next.

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In the early 20th century, one or two scientists were commonly credited as the authors of articles appearing in top science journals. Since then, authorship has ballooned, with some articles listing hundreds—even a thousand—authors. Driving this trend is the reality that many of the complex questions being studied today require the know-how of a team of scientists from diverse disciplines. Fortunately, there is no shortage of students who want to work on the cutting edge of research and discovery.

At Carleton, interest in the sciences has grown considerably over the past several decades. Students want to be actively involved in research opportunities, and enrollment in laboratory courses is higher than ever. Recognizing these trends, the college has made investing in science facilities a high priority in its current strategic plan.

A proposed 236,037-square-foot complex will foster interdisciplinary collaboration, research, and teaching opportunities by housing all of the sciences—including chemistry, physics, biology, geology, psychology, cognitive science, and computer science—in a thoughtfully integrated way that replaces the current arrangement of four separate buildings. Biology professor Fernán Jaramillo, who led the planning committee, says the new complex will bolster research potential for faculty members while helping to ensure that students get the education and research experience they need to prepare for a future in scientific fields.

“In the past, it was enough to go to a good school, get good grades, and spend most of your time studying in the library,” says Jaramillo. “Today, students in many science fields are seen as woefully unprepared for technical or academic careers if they don’t have significant research experience or if they can’t work well within multidisciplinary teams. We need people who encompass multiple perspectives to tackle things like cancer, global climate change, and artificial intelligence—and we want to foster our students’ ability to do that kind of work.”


Collaboration and Efficiency

Current planning has the science complex scheduled for completion in 2020. Construction will begin in fall 2017 on a new building, following the demolition of Mudd Hall, which currently houses the geology and chemistry departments. Olin and Hulings Halls, which house the rest of the sciences with the exception of computer science, will undergo renovation and become part of the new complex. Science instruction and research will continue during the project, though classrooms and laboratories will be temporarily relocated to other buildings.

An atrium will act as a spine, functionally connecting the new construction with Olin and Hulings while providing much-needed work and study space. Like much of the complex, the atrium’s walls will be glass, allowing for natural light and transparency. “We like the idea of making science highly visible,” Jaramillo says. “Glass walls will allow students and faculty members to see what’s going on in other classrooms and research labs, facilitating conversations and connections among diverse fields.”

In addition to six new classrooms, the complex will include 12 new or renovated teaching labs, multiple computer labs, several collaborative spaces for students and faculty members, and a dedicated “maker space,” where people can fabricate metal objects and work with 3-D printers. Wet laboratories that offer distilled, ultrapure, and chilled water, pressurized and liquefied gases, 220-volt power, fume hoods, and specialized storage for chemicals will be located in the new building, as well as in Hulings. Dry labs will be located in Olin, which also will have collaborative research space.

Although the finished complex will be larger than the combined square footage of the previous science buildings, Jaramillo says, the project has been designed to achieve a net zero increase in energy consumption. “We’ve done several things to achieve that, including designing highly efficient mechanical systems, using LED light fixtures, installing ducted fume hoods only where necessary, and making exterior choices that are more energy efficient than those we made for Mudd four decades ago,” he explains.


Research and Teaching

Professor Gretchen Hofmeister ’85, whose research focuses on synthetic chemistry, says the complex will “create a space where students can move seamlessly from one place to another, creating an environment that mimics the way scientific research is done. People share ideas and try experiments, which often ‘fail,’ and then go back and talk to others and try again. There is always a lot of movement and interaction to the experience of science.”

Hofmeister and her colleagues already are anticipating how the newly designed building will help them incorporate more research and research-like activities into their teaching. Currently, the chemistry department is spread out, with classrooms and laboratories on different floors in separate buildings. But in the new complex, classrooms, teaching labs, research labs, computer spaces, and student study areas will be grouped together in blocks. There will also be a shared “Tsearch” space where research and teaching will be combined.

Rather than continuing to house their labs separately, Hofmeister and two other synthetic chemists will combine their research and advanced lab space into one Tsearch lab. “This is going to allow for so much more cross-fertilization of ideas and fruitful collaboration,” she says. “Working in a less-isolated way will change my perspective, and that will have an impact on my research.”

Anna Rafferty, an assistant professor of computer science, has similarly positive views about her department’s move into Olin Hall. “We’ve been physically very separate from the rest of the sciences, but I think this move will help other science majors see us as scientists—and that will help us make important connections for future collaboration,” she says. “On the job, most computer scientists do not sit around coding all day. And even if they are writing code, they will be building on something that someone else can understand and use, so interdisciplinary collaboration is good training for the future.”

Working in proximity will also help students see how computer science can be used in various fields of research. “Students will now see people doing computational work in chemistry and physics and think, ‘Oh, hey, that’s something I could do after graduation,’” she says.


An Homage to Mudd

Like his fellow science professors, Cam Davidson, who teaches geology, is looking forward to all that the science complex will have to offer. But he also wants to make sure that Mudd Hall is remembered for a job well done. In fact, plans initially called for Mudd to be renovated, but escalating costs led to the decision to demolish it instead.

“Mudd, which was remodeled in the 1990s with exceptional foresight into geology’s needs, has served the department very well,” says Davidson. “If you look around here you realize, ‘Wow, they really got a lot of stuff right.’ ”

That said, Davidson, who is currently studying the tectonics of Alaska, acknowledges that Mudd has become outdated and overcrowded. Working with the architects of the complex, Davidson and his colleagues have recreated and built upon many of the things they like about their current research and teaching space. “We’ll preserve the open architecture that we have in Mudd because we like the way we can eavesdrop on each other’s teaching and learn from one another,” he says.

In addition to consolidating the department’s rock processing facilities in one area, many of the instruments and equipment used by scientists and students from all disciplines will be centrally located and shared, leading to more opportunities for interaction.

“One of the best things about this new complex is that we’re all going to get to know each other better,” says Davidson, “and who knows what might come of that?”

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