Science You Can See
When the Chemistry-Physics Building was completed in 1962, it was the most advanced science building in the entire state of Kentucky. Chem-Phys transformed science at UK and continues to facilitate first-rate scientific research.
With the completion of the Academic Science Building in 2016, College of Arts & Sciences Dean Mark Lawrence Kornbluh hopes for another transformative addition to the culture of science education at UK.
“It is a building that will really set up students to succeed in science education,” Kornbluh explained. “This will have state-of-the-art laboratories where students can learn by doing, where they will have access to the most advanced instruments. The labs embody the active learning principle that underlined our general education curricular reform.”
When funding was secured for the ASB in the spring of 2013, Kornbluh traveled with a team from UK to survey state-of-the-art science laboratories. “It was enlightening to see such advanced science buildings. It reinforced our inclinations to bring disciplines together in an environmentally-designed building,” he said.
The ASB will house teaching laboratories for the Biology and Chemistry Departments, uniting teaching and research but also placing introductory and advanced laboratories in close proximity. “Natural light will come in and students will have clear sight lines to see what other students are doing. Beginning students will really see the pathway forward in science,” said Kornbluh.
“The labs will be surrounded by glass so students in lower division can actually see these instruments being used and get a chance to see what life is like in the upper division,” added Mark Meier, recent chair of the Department of Chemistry.
Moreover, the ASB will offer labs designed for collaboration and tailored to specific class purposes. For example, general chemistry is currently taught in a very traditional laboratory with rows of lab benches. In the ASB, students will form groups of four to work on tables in more open space. “[The design] is going to enable us to introduce some instrumentation we haven’t been able to before. Students will be able to engage with ideas more thoroughly and actually experiment, which is new,” Meier said.
With labs designed specifically for analytical chemistry, synthetic chemistry, biochemistry and more, the ASB is a more advanced and interactive approach to experimentation than the less flexible labs in Chem-Phys.
The ASB will house all of the teaching laboratories for the Department of Chemistry, but it also meets a crucial research demand for the Department of Biology. As department Chair Vincent Cassone explains, biology has the highest student-teacher ratio of any program among land grant universities, making it particularly important to recruit more biologists.
“I envision [the ASB] to be a major home for the Department of Biology. This building is a great opportunity to move current teaching labs from Thomas Hunt Morgan and allow us to create research space for new faculty and grow biology as a program,” he said.
These laboratories, then, will offer a cutting-edge educational experience and show the real world relevance of what students learn in the classroom. New labs for physiology and microbiology, among others, allow for a broader biology curriculum and bolster the ability to teach future generations of students at UK.
Since biology is such a labor-intensive discipline, the laboratory space provided by the ASB also reinforces the importance of student research. “We couldn’t do research without graduate students. They are one of our greatest resources,” said Cassone. “Students working in our laboratories are the engine by which the research enterprise works.”
Plans for the ASB also include increased safety and accessibility. Carts with chemicals won’t traverse public hallways, but will be safely stored and use private corridors to stock the labs. Administrators also plan to keep the building open late so students will have more opportunity to engage in scientific work.
Those involved in planning for the ASB hope the number of students who complete STEM degrees will grow, but these new labs in the ASB won’t just affect science majors. Meier believes enthusiasm generated by these new technologies and capabilities will create an improved atmosphere for all students taking courses in the ASB.
“It can really improve morale, and that improved morale will translate into better student success in their majors. This will help contribute to student success all across campus. Chemistry is just a small part of that,” said Meier.
“This presents a change in the gestalt of how we teach and create a community of scholars. By having this building and having an open, aesthetically-pleasing area for people to congregate and talk about science, we’ll change the psychology of life science research and education,” Cassone added.
Future classes will spend a lot of time in the ASB, and Meier and Cassone believe the visibility and capability of these new lab spaces will go a long way toward invigorating, educating, and inspiring those future generations of students.
“The Chemistry-Physics Building has served a lot of people really well. If you think of all the students who have come through this building, it’s a staggering number. This building will serve an equally staggering number,” Meier said. “Even bigger.”