Colorado State’s New 78,000-Square-Foot High-Tech Science Building is Changing Curriculum, Improving Student Learning

Colorado State University President Albert C. Yates will lead a celebration at 10 a.m. on Friday commemorating the university’s Chemistry/Biosciences Hall, the state’s newest and most advanced facility dedicated to undergraduate education. The unique layout and advanced facilities of the five-story, 78,000-square-foot structure, funded by a $20 million appropriation from the Colorado Legislature, are changing the way students learn science.

The new science hall houses the latest in technology and safety equipment. The facility includes 26 student laboratories and connected lecture rooms for undergraduate lab courses in chemistry, biology, biochemistry and the university’s recently expanded life sciences core curriculum. The building also accommodates chemical engineering and biomedical sciences (pre-med) courses.

Built to improve instruction, incorporate advances in information technology, address safety issues and meet increased demand for science courses, the building was designed in large part by faculty to meet the needs of undergraduates. There are no faculty offices and no graduate courses taught in the new building.

"The Chemistry/Biosciences Hall was designed to create the best and safest learning environment for students," said Rick Miranda, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. "The majority of Colorado State students will benefit from the facility as the bulk of the university’s required service courses will be taught in the new building."

The key advantage of the building is its design and the integration of lab, lecture and recitation. All laboratories are connected with breakout classrooms. The building also includes advanced computer labs to enhance the learning process.

"The building’s unique design is leading to beneficial changes in course structures as each period can now be designed differently to split up lab, classroom and computer room time accordingly to provide the best educational experience," said chemistry Professor Louis Hegedus. "The layout and advanced facilities are changing the way science is taught and allowing students to make immediate connections between lecture and lab."

Traditionally, classrooms and laboratories are located in disparate areas and often in different buildings, resulting in lectures and labs being separate classes with non-correlated content. With the new building design, lectures and labs are combined.

"Students can begin the period in the lecture room learning about the science, then go directly into the lab and perform that science," said Norman Curthoys, chairman of the biochemistry and molecular biology department. "The professor can then take the class back into the adjoining breakout room and discuss the results, all within the same class period. It is a greatly advanced and highly effective learning environment."

Each lab in the new building was built to meet the needs of a specific course. Every aspect was planned in advance, from the bench design to the number of computers to the specific equipment installed. All labs feature bright lighting and much more space per student.

The new facilities also are providing needed space to expand all labs from two to three-hour periods, enhancing the types of experiments and instruction conducted. Additionally, the building allows opportunities for new classes that could not be previously taught due to a lack of facilities. One such class is clinical chemistry, new this fall, which analyses body fluids.

Another key advantage of the building is its current technology and the infrastructure’s potential to bring more information technology into science classes. Two large computer classrooms with advanced systems enhance laboratory instruction. All workstations have 19-inch flat screen monitors and high-speed connections, and professors can control all computer stations for lecture purposes.

Additionally, every inch of the vibration-proof facility is wireless, meaning that students with laptops and wireless network cards can access the university’s computer network and high-bandwidth Internet connection from anywhere inside the building. This technology allows freedom of movement while conducting experiments.

According to Jim Cox, information technology coordinator for the College of Natural Sciences, the labs not only take advantage of the latest technology, but also were designed to be expandable and meet the needs of the future. "As science and higher education become increasingly more computerized, the building is designed to easily accommodate these changes and advances in technology," he said.

The facility also has separate instrumentation labs on each floor that house advanced equipment used to analyze the compounds students create in labs. The rooms are filled with the same equipment found in the field, offering students valuable hands-on learning opportunities.

Some other technological advantages of the new, fully handicapped-accessible facility include computer and Internet hookups on every laboratory bench. Several labs have computer workstations on each bench that allow students to collect samples, run computational programs and immediately analyze data. Such technology advances the curriculum and allows students to conduct analysis using the same processes found in professional research labs.

Other major benefits of the new building are a result of strong measures taken to ensure the highest levels of safety for all students. In the organic chemistry labs, for example, each two-person workbench has its own ventilated hood, and all experiments are done within the hoods, alleviating any chemical fumes, solvent smells or exposure to harmful airborne substances. The hoods, designed specifically for these labs, are transparent and offer unobstructed views in all directions, allowing instructor observation at all times.

For safety and control, each department has a preparation room for storage and preparation of substances used in experiments. The chemicals are mixed for experiments before being taken into the labs. The fireproof steel storage cabinets that hold the substances are fully ventilated and piped into the building’s ventilation system. Additionally, each lab has two fireproof, ventilated cabinets.

The first floor of the building consists of a 254-seat lecture hall and a small area for a materials chemistry lab, the only space in the entire facility not completely dedicated to undergraduate education. The lab area was provided for chemistry Professor Bruce Parkinson to replace lab space destroyed by the 1997 flood. The second and third floors are dedicated to biology and biochemistry, and the fourth and fifth floors are devoted to chemistry.

Friday’s celebration will take place from 10 a.m.-noon in the Chemistry/Biosciences Hall lobby. The new facility is located on the south side of the main Colorado State campus in Fort Collins at Pitkin Street and Center Avenue. Yates and Miranda will make comments beginning at 10:30 a.m. Tours of the new science building will begin at 10 a.m.