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State-of-the-Art Science Classrooms Transform Learning, Teaching

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With cutting-edge technology and equipment in the chemistry and earth and environmental sciences laboratories, these upgrades are the beginning of a modernization totaling more than $2.8 million.

By Megan Z. Shearin |    September 10, 2010

altThe 45-foot Ocean Explorer research vessel launched fall 2009 was only the beginning of upgrades planned for Virginia Wesleyan’s science facilities and programs.

Fast forward to the present, and this year students are learning in state-of-the art science classrooms, which include the Advanced Chemistry Laboratory and Earth and Environmental Sciences Laboratory in Blocker Hall.

Bruce Vaughan, vice president of operations, said that cutting-edge technology and equipment has been added to the classrooms, along with upgrades to the heating and air conditioning systems meeting energy efficient standards.

altInnovations include 20 articulating arm “snorkel” ventilation stations, which allow students to function safely in the chemistry lab by venting even trace amounts of toxic, smelly, or flammable vapors; modernized eye wash stations and the addition of a chemical shower. Five large fume hoods conclude the lab modernization and are used when experimenting with flammable, explosive and corrosive materials.

Ceiling projection cameras in each lab mean no more lining up to look into a microscope or huddling around a chemistry station.  Projects are now displayed live on the electronic whiteboard to visualize complex concepts, engage classroom discussion and accommodate different styles of learning.

“We’ve created a more dynamic and engaging academic environment for our current students and future students,” said Vaughan.  He also noted that the HVAC system is comparable to those found in LEED-Certified laboratories.

Assistant Professor of Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences Dr. Elizabeth Malcolm said the biggest change is the reconfiguration of the classroom, which will enhance student learning.

“This new configuration encourages student collaboration and increased student/teacher interaction,” she said. “The additional lab bench space for student projects and laboratory equipment around the periphery of the room also makes for a more efficient learning environment.”

Professor of Chemistry Dr. Joyce Easter said the upgraded laboratories are much more functional and will allow her students to conduct a variety of experiments, thanks to the new equipment.

“Our new vacuum system will reduce the amount of water that we use in the lab, expand the types of experiments we can do, and also increase the success of experiments that use vacuum filtration,” she said.

These upgrades are part of a $2.8 million modernization project that began summer 2010 to provide expanded opportunities for student research training and internships, modern, state-of the-art laboratory space for classes and research training and student access to cutting-edge technology and equipment.  Improvements will continue during the summer of 2011 with upgrades to joint teaching/research labs for General Biology, General Chemistry and Environmental Science, along with the addition of six dedicated research labs.

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