University of Wisconsin’s Chemistry Building reopened its doors to students last week after three-and-a-half years of renovation. The $135 million project brings modernized laboratory equipment, study spaces, and active-learning based classrooms to UW’s chemistry department.
Robert McMahon is a professor of chemistry at UW and the co-chair of the Chemistry Facilities Committee. McMahon said the conception of the new building has been in the making for 20 years. The old labs reflected an era with less instrumentation, computers, and safety standards, McMahon said.
“My colleagues and I, we love science and we love chemistry,” McMahon said. “And it can be hard to convey that enthusiasm in an outdated facility.”
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UW Emeritus professor of chemistry John Moore has been a leader in chemistry education for decades. Moore said he would often partially hold his classes in a different building because the chemistry building had no spaces to allow for active learning. The newly added wing of the building features classrooms and lecture halls designed for engagement and collaboration.
One of these notable spaces is the “Learning Studio,” a classroom featuring square tables where students sit facing their peers, and large projector screens on every wall. Each table is fitted with a microphone and cord which corresponds to a projector, Moore said. This means that group work and presentations can be easily shared with the whole class.
The building’s new instructional laboratories also encourage collaboration among students. New “write-up rooms” in between labs provide spaces for students to analyze conceptual information and discuss with instructors away from the actual lab benches. Additionally, see-through fume hoods were added as a safety measure and allow for visibility into the rest of the lab from behind benches.
Over 7,000 UW students are enrolled in a chemistry course this semester, and these facilities have an impact on the undergraduate population as a whole, McMahon said. For science, technology, engineering, and math majors in particular, chemistry is often an “on-ramp” in terms of coursework, McMahon said. This building addressed a serious need for STEM education at UW, McMahon said.
McMahon said though spaces are open, the work on the building is not finished yet. There is still about a year of remodeling remaining. Despite this, he was happy to see students exploring the new features, McMahon said.
“It’s been a long road to get to this point,” McMahon said. “To see the students find their way around this space is very exciting.”