Scientists highlight Convocation ceremony

In the darkened Wege Auditorium, Charles “Chip” Lovett, a professor of chemistry, ignited an array of flaming, foaming, smoking and exploding chemistry displays to formally dedicate the new Unified Science Center on Saturday.

“This is a transforming event for Williams College,” said Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College, who served as master of ceremonies for the dedication. “The science center is a result of the faculty’s vision. It is the single largest construction project in Williams history.”

The $47 million science center is a unified complex of 185,000 square feet of existing space with a 120,000 square foot addition. It includes the integration of the three Thompson Laboratories and the new 80,000-square foot Morley Science Laboratories.

Also, the six former departmental science libraries have been consolidated into the new Nan and Howard B. Schow ’50 Science Library.

In additional to the new buildings, renovations have been made to the entire original chemistry building and to several spaces in the biology and physics buildings, Bronfman Science Center and Clark Hall.

The project was needed for several reasons. Along with bringing older spaces up to code, the renovations address parts of the current facilities that have not been improved upon for more than 50 years in some cases. The new complex adds more research space for the growing number of faculty and students participating in scientific research. And, for the first time in the College’s recent history, the science center provides a unified library for the explosive growth of scientific information.

“Two hundred years ago, we were the leader in science,” said Lovett, the chairman of the science building committee. “This building is really a reaffirmation of Williams being a leader of in science education.”

One of the key features of the science center is that it creates literal bridges between previously separate science buildings and adds spaces for students and faculty to gather and share their work.

“With its focus on student-faculty interaction, interdisciplinary activity and sharing of resources, Williams College is an established leader in undergraduate science education,” wrote Lovett in a letter introducing the science center lectures.

“Our new science center has been designed to optimize these activities and promises to continue Williams’ tradition of setting the standard of excellent in the teaching of science at the undergraduate level.”

The project began nearly a decade ago after the Chemistry Student Advisory Committee recommended improvements on the outdated chemistry labs. From this start, the project “took on a life of its own,” and expanded to include the Schow Science Library and the Morley Science Laboratories, said Peter Wege ’71, who represented the Board of Trustees at the dedication.

“The mandate from the trustees was to use the resources of the College safely, but to make sure it is state of the art as well,” said Wege. To fund the $47 million complex, the College raised $23 million in donations and issued $24 million in bonds.

Throughout its development, the science center has received considerable attention from other academic institutions.

“I think that it is a model for the outside world,” said Harry C. Payne, former president of the College, who noted that many other college and university presidents contacted him about the complex. This project was conceived and developed under Payne’s tenure as president of the College.

Over 45 companies participated in the planning, design and construction of the science center. At the dedication ceremony, Phillip Wilde ’78, a design partner at Zimmer Gunsel Frasca Partnership, represented the groups and thanked all of the many people involved in completing the project.

“This building, this facility is a testament to what can happen when you have some good ideas and have a lot of cooperation and hard work from lots of groups of people,” Lovett said.

“I am sure you can imagine how exciting this new building is going to be for all the students who come here,” he added.

Although the science center is not yet complete, many students have already had a chance to use the new facilities.

“There are two features of the complex that I particularly like: the multiple interactive spaces scattered throughout, and the way all of the buildings will be connected,” said Laura Almstead ’01, a chemistry major. “Having everything connected will definitely foster interdisciplinary study as well as allowing students from various backgrounds to bump into each other.”

In addition to housing a wealth of scientific information, the Schow library provides a new study space on the south side of campus. It has become so popular that study carrel registration was full before the first-year students were allowed to register.

“The science library is absolutely amazing…study rooms, tables, cubicles, couches,” said Almstead. “It continues the Williams tradition of offering students study spaces for a wide variety of tastes. My greatest disappointment is that this is my only year to make use of this wonderful new resource.”

Although the Wege Auditorium was very crowded, no current students were seen attending the dedication. The audience for the event was primarily comprised of alumni and friends of the College along with members from various campus departments.

Most of the speeches at the ceremony focused on thanking the many individuals involved with the project. At the end of his speech, Lovett pulled out a bottle of champagne to break over the front lecture table. After joking with the crowd about the bottle, Lovett decided to dedicate the science center in a chemistry fashion by using chemical reactions to produce fire, smoke, foam and explosions.

The dedication culminated in the igniting of two gas filled balloons, which exploded into orange colored fireballs.