“The building itself is always part of a physics experiment” says Keith Griffioen, professor and chair of the physics department. And in recent years, he added, Small Hall often was an unwanted part. “Vibrations, from whatever source, can kill the precision of a laser experiment. Variations in temperature can make a large superconducting magnet become unstable,” he said. “Electrical currents running through a building can influence precise electronics, and therefore each circuit needs to be properly isolated. Signals from radio stations can interfere with precise detectors.”
After 50 years of service, the William Small Physical Laboratory, as it’s formally known, has undergone a well-earned overhaul. The renovation/expansion created 22,000 square feet of lab space in a new wing and renovated 68,000 square feet of existing space in the old Small Hall. In addition to being more physics-friendly, Small Hall has many new features. There’s a Faraday cage, which shields against external electromagnetic radiation. Other new additions include a clean room and a high bay, designed for constructing very large particle detectors for use at national facilities such as Jefferson Lab and Fermilab.
The physicists moved into their renovated offices shortly after commencement. Seth Aubin’s group and other researchers with labs in the new wing began moving in a year ago.
“They did a very nice job on the space and the temperature control; that was one of our big concerns,” Aubin says of the new Small Hall lab space.
The $28 million renovation—all done with Commonwealth of Virginia funds—also included updated and expanded physics teaching labs. “These teaching labs are intended to build on the intuitive physics that everyone has learned by walking with gravity, knowing how to catch a ball and watching waves break on the beach,” says Griffioen. “With these new facilities, we will be able to teach the art of experimenting more effectively.”