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Integrating Sciences

  • New facilities, new opportunities
    New facilities, new opportunities  Karen Volpe '11 and Pei Wang '11 (at right) work at an organic chemistry lab in one of the 12 hoods in a chemistry teaching lab in the ISC 1. The new teaching labs are equipped with a hood for each pair of students.  
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ISC 1 is completed, ISC 2 is in progress... just wait until we build ISC 3

The Integrated Science Center at William and Mary is a matter of the College’s past, present and future.

ISC Phase 1 is past—that is to say, it’s completed and up and running. ISC 2 is, at this writing, about midway towards completion. ISC 3 is still on the drawing boards, but will be very much a part of the future of research at the College, as it will contain activity devoted to “things that we don’t even have names for yet,” in the words of Dennis Manos, vice provost for research.Chemis J.C. Poutsma works in his new lab...

ISC 1 got up and running in the summer of 2008, housing all of the Department of Chemistry and elements of the Department of Biology. Chemistry moved over from the adjacent Rogers Hall, which is being gutted and transformed into ISC 2. ISC 1 and 2 will be connected, once the renovation process of ISC 2 is complete. ISC 1 also is the first building on the Williamsburg campus devoted primarily to scientific activity. There are research labs and teaching labs in the building, along with meeting areas and faculty offices—but no classrooms. The philosophy is to foster collaborative creativity among scientists and researchers—including William and Mary students.

“I tend to see the ISC as a progression in the trend of how we do business in the sciences at William and Mary,” Manos said. “That trend is away from the isolated, individual investigator working on one or two problems in a narrowly defined discipline, towards engagement in solving larger scale problems through teamwork.”

Phase 1 of the Integrated Science Center is, at a basic—but very important—level, a new, up-to-date facility to serve the research and teaching needs of two important departments. Both departments had been making do with outdated and worn-out facilities. The opportunity to put chemistry and biology in the same building was fortuitous.

“The boundaries between chemistry and biology long ago began to dissolve,” Manos said. “The techniques, the instrumentation, and the various methods the individual practitioners use are often the same. For instance, the difference between fluorescent resonant excitation transfer in chemistry and various forms of fluorescent microscopic imaging in biology may someday disappear altogether.”

The sciences, Manos says, have been integrating themselves for years, and the ISC concept will further the process here at William and Mary. Chemistry shares part of ISC 1 with biology, while psychology will move into the first floor of ISC 2, with more biologists on the second floor. The anticipated result will be a type of cross-fertilization, or at least a dissolving of traditional departmental boundaries.

“By melding the interests and capabilities of various types of scientists, and having them collide in hallways, share study spaces, and interact over common equipment, new things will emerge. The best genetic evolutionary systems are those that have the most frequent cross-fertilizing interactions and the greatest variety of individual contributors. Who knows what intellectual chimeras may emerge in areas like neuroscience, biochemistry, or in the molecular correlates of consciousness?

First things first

Before the sciences are to be integrated, they need proper working conditions, and Gary Rice, chair of chemistry, points to a number of practical improvements in the working environment of his department.

“Chemistry requires a lot of air handling,” Rice said. “The air handling systems in Rogers were shot. One of our standing jokes was that you could tell which organic lab was running that week by the smells in the hall. That is not an issue in this building.”Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine toured ISC 1...

The business end of any air exchange system is in the laboratory hoods: vented, enclosed workspaces behind sash doors. The work capacity of any lab that uses chemicals is more accurately described in terms of number of hoods, rather than, say, square footage of space. The two chemistry floors of ISC 1 has plenty of hoods, placed strategically among teaching and research labs—double the number the department had in Rogers Hall.

“We had three teaching labs in Rogers Hall. Each lab had four hoods along one wall,” Rice said. “Walk into one of these labs in the ISC you’ll see the hoods encircle the entire lab. Now, we have four teaching labs with 12 hoods in each of them.”

The chemistry teaching labs have a hood for every pair of students. The research labs in the department have hoods appropriate to the research that goes on inside.

“We designed the building to accommodate a wide variety of research interests. That has a lot to do with the hoods,” Rice said. “Some faculty do research that requires a lot of ventilation for the type of work they do; others do not. So, some research labs only have two hoods. Some have four. Some have six. The six-hood labs are for those that tend to work with a lot of organic chemicals that require constant ventilation.” The air handling capacity of the building is also designed to accommodate additional hood requirements as our faculty needs change.

The old Rogers once held departments of philosophy and religion in addition to chemistry. Over the years the chemists adapted spaces for their own purposes, creating a warren of labs, offices, classrooms and other necessary spaces. The ISC provided a blank slate for lab design.

“As research became a bigger mission of the College, we did every conceivable renovation possible in Rogers to create research space for our faculty. Lab space varied from a few hundred square feet up to 500-600 square feet, tops,” Rice explained. “Now everybody has essentially a 900-plus square-foot research space. In the old labs, you had narrow passageways. Students could bump into each other easily. The labs today are far more spacious, with open aisles.”

Uncool in Millington

While ISC 1 holds all of chemistry, eight researchers from the Department of Biology moved over from neighboring Millington Hall. (More biologists will move into ISC 2 when it is completed.) Paul Heideman, chair of the biology department, says temperature stability is important to many of the researchers in his department, but temperature stability is not one of Millington’s virtues.

“Millington really wasn’t designed to house the much more expensive, much more high-end equipment that we use now,” Heideman said. “Some of it is noisy and hot, and the cooling system in Millington often didn’t keep things cool.”

He explained that many biologists store samples in special cooling units, usually called “minus-80” freezers, as they keep their contents at 80 degrees below zero Centigrade. In the event of a power outage, Millington had backup power for the minus-80 freezers, but not much else. When room temperatures rise above 83 degrees Fahrenheit, the compressors on minus-80s start to overload, then fail, and as Heideman says, “You could lose years of work and $100,000 in a night.”

Freezers weren’t the only pieces of equipment vulnerable to temperature; many instruments and specimens were endangered during a power outage, Heideman said. Power-loss events that would close down the College would send the biologists into overtime.

“Every hurricane, every ice storm, everything that knocked out power, people would be down here worried about the heat,” he said. “After Hurricane Isabel, I practically lived in Millington for several nights.”

Chemist Debbie Bebout & Ashley Butland '10 work in X-Ray Diffraction Lab.The comprehensive, computerized air-exchange system built into ISC 1 will eliminate the chemists’ concern about ventilation. Both chemistry and biology will benefit from the peace of mind provided by the back-up system anchored by a pair of 600-kilowatt generators. The system is designed to keep the building’s HVAC systems running for at least four days.

All of chemistry moved into ISC 1, which made their problem of space allocation relatively simple compared to the one faced by the bio department, which was faced with the decision of who gets to move into the third floor of ISC 1 and who will move into the second floor of ISC 2. Above all, who gets to stay in Millington?

The department took advice from a consultant and was able to identify eight researchers whose labs were the most vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the outages and floods of Millington. Heideman said the ISC 1 group centered on the equipment-intensive labs of molecular biologists, but also included faculty such as Eric Engstrom, who works with Arabidopsis, a genus of plant that is valuable as a model in agricultural studies. To cultivate his samples of Arabidopsis successfully in Millington, Engstrom had to resort to a Rube Goldberg strategy that included portable air conditioners and foil on the lab windows.

The second wave of 10 biologists will move into the second floor of ISC 2—the gutted and refurbished Rogers Hall. (Five biologists, including Chairman Heideman, will remain in Millington for now.) The first floor of ISC 2 will hold most of the Department of Psychology. Occupation of the building is being scheduled for spring/summer of 2009.

More psychology space

Like chemistry and biology, psychology will benefit from a set of greatly improved facilities. Department Chair Constance Pilkington is one of 19 faculty—and all of their students—who do research on human psychology out of one shared and two individual facilities in the psTeaching lab.ychology wing of Millington.

“The shared space is booked constantly,” Pilkington said. “We got some relief when we established some individual laboratories in the old Bell Hospital. But basically, that’s all we have. The rest of the data are collected in classrooms.”

A department conference room in Millington is dominated by an enlargement of the floor plan of ISC 2’s first floor. Pilkington points to the Post-It® notes indicating space assignments for members of the psychology faculty.

Research lab.“All faculty will have their own dedicated research space when we move. Now, for many of us they are fairly small rooms that aren’t particularly flexible in what you can do with them,” she said. “But everybody having dedicated research space will be a vast improvement. At minimum, there will be good space for research team meetings and certain kinds of data collection.”

She said that psychology outgrew the space in Millington long ago. The department moved into the building in 1968 with eight faculty members; it now has 21. Some of the faculty have labs in the Bell Building, but most conduct their research in Millington.

“Our space in Millington was designed in 1967. State-of-the-art back then was two-way mirrors,” she said. “We will have some of those in our new space, but we really don’t use those much anymore, because people are very suspicious of them. Instead, we will more likely use remote-controlled hidden cameras, which will be part of the infrastructure in the ISC 2.”

Pilkington’s own research deals with romantic relationships, and much of it will be conducted in the new shared Dyadic Interaction Laboratory, devoted to the interaction of couples, or dyads.

“I might ask a couple to talk about something personal in one room,” she explained. “And then I might separate them to get their takes on what happened. Then I’d compare their perceptions with what actually happened, as recorded—with their permission—by the cameras.”

Large lab spaces fitted with multiple computer stations also will be part of the package. “A lot of us show people certain kinds of stimuli on the computer and we need to show it to them for a specified period of time,” she said. “So we can bring groups of participants in at the same time and have them do that all at once, rather than running individual sessions for as many as 100 people. It will make us much more efficient collecting that kind of data.”The newly constructed ISC 1...

The sciences integrate

Phase 1 of the Integrated Science Center was designed to maximize contact among students and faculty. Each floor has at least one lobby, and the long corridors are punctuated by “colloquium” areas. The history of science is dotted with stories of a researcher puzzling over a metaphorical lock, while his colleague down the hall has discovered an equally metaphorical key and is wondering what it will fit. Manos believes that the open areas will naturally encourage interaction, an extension of the integrated science concept to the scale of individuals.

“This is how science is done,” Manos said. “It’s done over coffee and in informal gab sessions.”

Presence of food and drink—even a nalgene bottle of H2O—is discouraged in lab spaces, if not outright prohibited. The pews, tables and chairs throughout lobbies and colloquium areas are handy places to hydrate, snack or just take a break.

ISC Phase 3“You’ll see students out at the tables and in the lobbies, which we didn’t have in Rogers. They’re working on problem sets or preparing for exams,” Rice said. “I can see faculty sitting out there with them, talking about research and things of that nature.”

The colloquium areas are equipped with white boards so that ideas that arise over coffee can be worked out and recorded. Many of the areas are wired with data ports as well. Even though the ISC, like the rest of the William and Mary campus, has wireless internet access, sometimes it isn’t enough.

“We want people to be able to hook up to a land line when they have to do really high-volume things if they want to get into the NIH or National Cancer Institute databases to analyze complex things,” Heideman said. “That’s hard to do with wireless because it’s often such big files and there’s so much data.”  i