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Biology, botany faculty outline plans for new facility

Botany and biology faculty (from left: Robert Askins, Martha Grossel and Rachel Spicer).
Botany and biology faculty (from left: Robert Askins, Martha Grossel and Rachel Spicer).

Connecticut College already has excellent science equipment, bright and inquisitive students, and outstanding faculty.

The new Science Center at New London Hall will give them a building worthy of their talents.

Science faculty recently outlined the plans for the $20 million-plus project, funded by leadership gifts from foundations and individuals.

"It really gives us what we want," said Professor Martha Grossel, chair of the Biology Department. "We've been really driving the design." Faculty have been been involved in the design of the classrooms, labs and other spaces from the beginning.

The building will bring together the life sciences -- biology and botany -- with computer science. Groundbreaking for an addition plus a complete renovation is scheduled for spring 2011.

New London Hall was the first building to be built on campus, and it's significant that work will begin during the year celebrating the College's Centennial. Students and faculty will move back in the fall of 2012. During construction, labs will be at the former DNA EpiCenter building on campus. Grossel said the departments are also juggling some class schedules to minimize any disruption.

The biggest change between the old building and the new will be how student and faculty researchers work. The new building will make it much easier to collaborate, said Biology Professor Robert Askins.

The current labs in New London Hall now aren't connected, he said, adding that hallways are the only real social space. "The whole architecture of the building tends to keep us separated -- socially separated," he said.

Grossel said the new building will connect labs and teaching spaces, provide social areas for faculty and students to talk, study and relax, and improve heating and air conditioning systems that are vital to experiments. The College hopes to obtain silver-level LEED environmental certification for the building.

The building also will make collaboration with the nearby physics and chemistry departments (in Olin and Hale) easier.

Students already like to collaborate and solve problems, Grossel said. "When they start talking to each other they can't imagine why they can't do something," she said. That type of collaboration leads to breakthroughs in research. Improving communication will facilitate that.

She said the level of work done by Connecticut College students is amazing.

"By the time they leave they're really like graduate students," Grossel said. "It's remarkable what they do here over a four-year span."

Assistant Professor of Botany Rachel Spicer, who came to the College this year from Harvard, said the College's equipment and instrumentation is top of the line, especially for an undergraduate institution. The greenhouse, she added, has fantastic botanical-style plant collections.

"These are the things that really brought me here," she said. "It's an exciting time to arrive at the College."

October 16, 2010