Rowell Brokaw's new Chemistry Teaching Lab at the UO is featured in Inside Oregon

This November 16, 2011 article "New labs for students result from space collaborations" in Inside Oregon features new science labs that have enhanced the educational experience for both students and faculty. Other lab renovations at the University of Oregon by Rowell Brokaw Architects include Nolen Prehoda Lab, Stickleback Core Facility, Transgenic Mouse Facility, Cyropreservation Facility, Willamette Hall Micrscopy Labs, the Klamath Hall General Biology Lab, and the Zebrafish International Resource Center.

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New instructional laboratory spaces opened this summer and fall, thanks to creative use-of-space arrangements between the chemistry and human physiology departments. Two outgrown and outdated laboratories were transformed into new digs that enhance the education experience for hundreds of undergraduates who may be enrolling in their first – and sometimes defining – courses in science disciplines.

The renovations were set in motion three years ago when Mike Haley became the chemistry department head and established a priority of finding a new general chemistry labratory.

The old general chemistry lab in the basement of Klamath Hall was built in 1967, and the only freshening-up it received in the past 44 years was one paint job. Various course sections had to use the windowless, 3,300-square-foot basement room at the same time, with students on top of each other and conversations bleeding into one another.

With assistance from the university’s Committee for Academic Infrastructure, a $750,000 project was funded to renovate a portion of the department that was under-utilized office and research lab space on the building’s second floor.

The new general chemistry laboratory – which opened in summer session – is four distinct rooms, with each room configured for team projects. Windows bring in natural light, and a state-of-the-art ventilation system and high-tech educational tools improve the learning experience for the 800-plus students who will use the lab annually. The renovation also includes a prep space across the hall, with a new lab dishwasher and rubberized flooring.

“This is the first lab class many students will see in their freshman year,” said Haley, the department head. “This greatly-improved facility will provide a modern, updated introduction to general chemistry and other disciplines that the UO leads.”

The former chemistry lab space in the building’s basement won’t go dormant, thanks to an innovative space-sharing agreement between the chemistry and human physiology departments. With space at a premium and more students enrolling at the UO, creative thinking is opening conversations all over campus.

The anatomy lab used primarly by the human physiology department in the basement of Onyx Bridge creates hands-on opportunities for students. With five cadavers provided by Oregon Health Sciences University used for teaching and dissection, undergraduates at the UO get more access and experience with human bodies than students at many other universities.

However, the space was very small for a class of students. And the sink is a wooden trough with many handles and levers – all of which much be used by hand – which is not the most hygenic practice.

Human physiology instructor Jon Runyeon said faculty in his department jumped at the chance when presented with an opportunity to renovate the Klamath Hall lab that the chemistry department was vacating.

As one of the top 10 majors on campus, human physiology courses consistently fill to capacity. When the new lab space – estimated to be three times the size of the former anatomy lab – opened this fall term, there was more room for the existing cadavers and the potential to have more teaching and learning space down the road.

“Anatomy dictates function, and until you see it, it’s difficult to comprehend,” Runyeon said. “Bodies are different on the outside and even more different on the inside. Students who experience anatomy in this lab have a greater understanding of the human form.”

The anatomy lab will mark its new location with an open house at 2 p.m. on Dec. 7, in 63 Klamath Hall.

According to Haley, the space didn’t meet the needs of the general chemistry lab any longer, but the renovation is benefiting other UO students with an improved space that might be a different window into science.