Yale undergraduate science labs may soon be collected under one roof.
The science administration is working to develop a “Science Teaching Center” on Science Hill, which would combine the biology, chemistry and physics undergraduate teaching laboratories into one new building located adjacent to Sterling Chemistry Laboratory. Ideally, the center would be a site for interdisciplinary learning, a social space and an additional dining option for science students and faculty who regularly spend time away from the main campus dining halls, Associate Provost for Science and Technology Timothy O’Connor said Thursday.
“[The center] would create a place on Science Hill so that students weren’t just coming up here for the sole purpose of coming to lab and then running back to campus to socialize,” physics lecturer Stephen Irons, the director of instructional labs in physics, said.
The center would be a central hub on Science Hill where science students could congregate, and is part of a larger vision to consolidate the center of campus in light of the construction of two new residential colleges, whose completion is slated for 2015.
While the center is still in the planning stage, O’Connor said, it forms another step in a series of maneuvers to improve science programs at Yale. The idea comes on the heels of a new focus on recruiting student scientists, including the recent announcements of the first-ever Yale Science and Engineering Weekend — a recruiting event similar to Bulldog Days that targets potential science and engineering majors — and a new admissions essay for prospective Yale engineers.
Several versions of the plan have been presented in past years, but were discarded because they proved too expensive to fully implement, O’Connor said, adding that this is just the latest round of discussions on the issue.
The science administration is currently meeting with groups of science faculty members to determine the level of desire for the center. O’Connor said he thinks faculty will take issue with the logistics of the plan rather than the concept.
“I can’t imagine there would be faculty opposed to that, but … there will be lots of questions like, ‘Where do you put it? What is it close to?’” he said.
Irons said he has not been involved in the latest round of discussion about the center, but he said he attended many of the project meetings in the last couple of years. He said he thinks the center would be a good way to make students feel more at home on Science Hill.
Students taking more than one laboratory course, such as science majors and pre-meds, would appreciate having a central location for these courses, pre-med student Adam Weiner ’12 said. He also said it would be convenient to have a place on Science Hill to socialize or relax in between classes.
“Right now there’s nowhere to hang out, just a crammed cafeteria in Kline Biology Tower,” he said.
The presence of a center housing different science teaching labs would allow professors to be more in contact with colleagues from different departments, potentially fostering interdisciplinary research, Irons said.
Improved facilities would also allow professors to carry out a wider range of experiments and exercises in their courses, O’Connor said.
“When we don’t have cutting-edge facilities, there are limits to what we can do in the curriculum,” he said.
But Irons said he is not sure whether there is space for a building like this, especially now that the plan for the two new residential colleges is going forward.
At the very least, physics professor Sidney Cahn, who currently teaches PHYS 165/166: “General Physics Laboratory,” said he thinks the teaching labs in Sloane Physics Laboratory could benefit from renovations. New storage spaces and room configurations would allow for more efficient teaching in the labs, he said.
According to course statistics on the online course information website, the 22 biology, chemistry and physics undergraduate laboratory courses offered this semester have an enrollment of 1,006 students in total.