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New Science Facilities Usher in New Era, Learning Opportunities

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Integrated Science Building at the University of Kansas will be a boon to faculty and students in the School of Engineering, officials say — and serve as a crown jewel that attracts innovators and collaborators from the Midwest and beyond.

“It's really a giant leap forward,” said Bob Goldstein, who served as associate dean of natural sciences and mathematics at KU and Provost’s special advisor for campus development during its planning and construction.

The new $147.5 million building, which opened in June, is huge: It includes 292,000 square feet of space for teaching and research in chemistry, medicinal chemistry, physics, molecular biosciences and related fields.

Among the new tenants: Steve Soper, a Foundation Distinguished Professor who holds joint appointments in the Departments of Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering. The new facility is tailor-made for the interdisciplinary nature of his position. And with features like a 10,000-square foot “clean room facility” that enables experiments on biomaterials and electronics, Soper expects it to be the envy of researchers from far beyond campus.

“This will be very unique to the state of Kansas and regionally, and spawn high-tech businesses,” Soper said. “We'll have visitors coming to Kansas to do things they can't do at their home universities.”

CENTRAL DISTRICT

The construction of the ISB is part of KU’s larger “Central District” construction project, which added and revamped hundreds of thousands of square feet of classroom and laboratory space to the KU campus in just a few short years, one of the largest and most-complex developments in university history.

KU’s campus transformation includes construction of the new Earth, Energy & Environment Center (EEEC), which opened in early 2018 and serves as home to geology and petroleum engineering studies, as well as the renovation Summerfield Hall to serve as the new home for the Department of Film & Media Studies.

Add to that apartment-style housing and a new residence hall built on the south side of the main campus near 19th and Ousdahl Streets, plus a new student union — Burge Union, which replaces its predecessor — a new parking garage and a central utility plant.

“It’s a transformative period,” said Jim Modig, KU’s University Architect, Facilities Planning and Development.

The ISB itself was built to bring faculty and students in several disciplines together. With that, the facility was designed with openness in mind. Classrooms and labs both feature large windows, letting passersby peer in while presentations are made and experiments completed.

“Having facilities that are interdisciplinary — integrated — is beneficial to our students first and foremost,” Goldstein said. “The philosophy is to co-locate teaching and research. It makes for a better experience for our students to have access to research labs and faculty mentors.”

He added: “No one researcher can be an expert in every approach and every technique. Through interactions among researchers in diverse disciplines, they discuss ideas that lead to the greatest discoveries — products and devices will come out of this that will serve humanity.”

TEACHING, RESEARCH

Some features of the Integrated Science Building:

• The east section’s basement is a low-vibration area for researchers doing materials and biology imaging work. Faculty in the upper floors of the ISB’s east side will focus on drug discovery and catalysts, as well as other processes that require intensive chemical use.

• The west side features labs for research into life sciences, as well as a 10,000-square-foot “clean room” that will enable experiments on biomaterials and electronics. The central portion of the building includes an atrium and a 330-seat lecture hall.

Goldstein said the teaching areas were designed to accommodate new methods of instruction. Increasingly, students listen to lectures outside of class — via electronic media — and use classroom time for “practical learning” projects that give them hands-on experience solving problems.

So the lecture hall, for example, is built so the seats can turn towards one other — enabling students to collaborate — instead of oriented forward, toward the lecturer.

“We’re turning that lecture hall more into a lab for higher-order learning. All the classrooms are designed with that in mind,” Goldstein said. “From a teaching perspective, that's going to do a lot for engineering students.”

The building also features an underground passageway to the new Burge Union. And the nearby central utility plant is designed with teaching in mind: It features a 45-seat classroom that lets students get a look at the machinery and processes involved in keeping the campus running.

“This allows the engineering students next door to see the machine room floor of that power plant from the classroom,” Modig said. “They can go on a field trip and never leave the building.”

THE FUTURE

One of the immediate benefits of the new building: KU will be able to expand the number of chemistry labs it offers by up to 50 percent — Malott Hall was cramped enough that the university had to offer night and weekend classes to accommodate everybody, including engineering students, who needed to take those classes.

“That’s pretty exciting,” Goldstein said.

Soper said the new imaging facilities will feature state-of-the-art analytical electron beam microscopes, among other equipment. “That's going to be quite incredible,” he said.

But it’s the giant new clean room, he said, that should draw attention. Regionally, similar clean rooms can be found only in Arkansas and Nebraska. “This clean room will draw a lot of researchers under one roof,” he said.

The room, Soper said, “is going to be used to make devices for a variety of applications. What's unique about these devices, they're comprised of components of different size ranges of a few nanometers to a few millimeters. The cleanroom is large enough to build devices across the size ranges.”

That will allow researchers at KU to create nanodevices that can do things like diagnose mutations in DNA molecules, he said, to somewhat larger — but still small — devices that identify diseases via blood tests. Such capabilities, in turn, will spawn economic development: Soper himself has launched a company, Digital NanoGenetics, that will take advantage of possibilities allowed in the clean room.

“It's going to serve as an important seed for fostering new companies — new technologies and new companies surrounding those technologies,” Soper said.

The expectation, officials said, is that the ISB will become a big factor in drawing students and researchers to KU.

“It'll serve as a nice focal point,” Soper said, “for people to come and see what's going on the KU campus.”



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