Inside Look: Science centers

Under the microscope: Dissecting the new science center

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.


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