Bit by bit, the concrete, pipe and rebar have come together on the SIUE campus as the new Science Building Complex takes shape. The 136,000-square-foot addition is being built west of the existing Science Building, and will connect to that structure via a bridge walkway on the first level.
The new four-story building will house the University's Department of Biological Sciences, Department of Chemistry, and Environmental Sciences programs along with state-of-the-art labs and offices for faculty. After these departments relocate, plans are for the current Science Building to be renovated.
The departments of Mathematics and Statistics and Physics will stay in the refurbished building, which also will contain two large auditorium classrooms, general classroom space and renovated research areas. Additional refurbished space will be used by the University's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Center.
The original Science Building was the third to open on the SIUE campus in 1966. As the years passed, the University lacked funding to keep up with renovations, repairs and technology advancements. These issues, coupled with enrollment growth, demonstrated the need for a new structure. Plans for a new building originally were presented in 1999, but the State of Illinois did not release funding for the project until 2009. The cost of the new building is $53 million, while the renovation of the existing Science Building will cost $29 million. The current timeline calls for the new structure to be finished in 2012. Contracts should be awarded soon for the renovation of the current facility, which is expected to take two years to complete.
The construction and renovation are being welcomed with great enthusiasm by many in the natural sciences at the University.
"Twelve years of dreaming of a new science facility at SIUE will be worth the wait when we move," said Robert Dixon, associate professor and chair of chemistry. "My window overlooks the construction site, and I have been watching it so much that the construction workers must think I am their project manager."
The chemistry program has an enrollment of around 135 students; roughly two-thirds are undergraduates. Additionally, the department teaches required courses with accompanying laboratories for many popular majors at the University: biology, pre-medicine, pre-pharmacy, engineering, nursing and allied health. This demand has created a tremendous strain on space and resources for the department, with labs being taught from 8:30 in the morning until 9:30 at night - even on Saturdays and Sundays.
"The new building will double the number of labs for upper-level chemistry majors," said Dixon. "Our students can integrate all areas of science into answering current questions and problems in chemistry. This will allow us to offer open-ended, project-based labs that will emulate what will be required of our students in their future professions. Ultimately, they will have more in their 'tool boxes' when they graduate."
Zhi-Qing Lin is an associate professor with a split appointment between biological sciences and environmental sciences. His research centers on studying environmental toxins and the use of plants to remove them. He was shown sketches of new building plans when he interviewed at SIUE in 2002, and said the promised new lab space was partly what attracted him to the University. He kept up with the building construction while on sabbatical with the United States Department of Agriculture during the fall 2011 semester.
"While in California, I watched the building grow week after week through the Science Building web cam," Lin said. "I am very excited. Indeed, to me it is a dream come true."
Lin said that he is looking forward to leaving behind the cart of chemicals that he has moved around from room to room to conduct research with his students.
"My new research space will mean higher efficiency and productivity for my students and me," he said. "My current lab has relatively high background levels of trace elements, which has affected the detection limits of our chemical analyses. The new space means we will have better lab conditions to run those chemical analyses."
Alumni believe the new facilities will strengthen the high quality of science offerings at SIUE. Dustin Hancks graduated from SIUE in 2006 with his biological sciences degree. In May 2011, he received his Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology from the University of Pennsylvania. His thesis focused on human "jumping genes" and how they move around the genome and generate variation within and across species. He believes he was well prepared for his graduate education.
"In my opinion, SIUE provided me with a strong foundation in the biological sciences," Hancks said. "The Department of Biological Sciences offered a diverse curriculum and the opportunity to do research."
The new facilities will play a significant role in student learning, according to Hancks. "First impressions do matter, and the new Science Building will enhance the educational experience at SIUE," he said. "The new space and new equipment may encourage a young person to take courses that they may not have tried due to the previous facility situation. Also, new facilities will likely increase recruitment and/or retention of good students for graduate studies in the sciences at SIUE."
Private contributions from alumni, community friends, corporations and foundations will be needed to equip the new Science Building Complex. Since the approval of the state funding for construction, the University has been using available funds to purchase updated "moveable" equipment that can be relocated to the new addition; however, some equipment is too outdated or unstable to withstand relocation.
"A 28 year-old Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imager (NMR) cannot be moved to the new building," according to Associate Dean William Retzlaff. "It can't be taken out of the chilled state and moved, then restarted," he said. "Replacement of that single piece of out-dated equipment will cost $500,000." The NMR is used by many Chemistry faculty as well as students from all disciplines and is essential in a modern chemistry department.
"The University must depend on the commitment and generosity of alumni and non-alumni donors to ensure that the Science Building will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology," said Dean Aldemaro Romero. "In order to prepare science, allied health, and engineering students to transition easily into the job market, we must ensure their proficiency in working with instrumentation they will encounter on a daily basis in research, medical and corporate environments."
Whether it be one of many donors contributing to the purchase of a specific piece of equipment or solely underwriting a naming opportunity, such as one of the 18 new science research and teaching laboratories, all contributions will play a critical role in defining excellence at SIUE.
Find out how you can help outfit laboratories and classrooms with equipment.