Bannow Science Center to unveil new science-research facilities

Bannow Science Center to unveil new science-research facilities

Photos from the ceremony

Bannow dedication

Bannow dedication

Bannow dedication

When Fairfield University's new Bannow Science Center is officially dedicated on Thursday, Oct. 3 at 4:30 p.m., visitors will see new state-of-the-art science laboratories and get a look at the depth of research faculty are doing in collaboration with students.

In biology, for instance, students Jeff Tetrault and Caitlin O'Connor work side-by-side with assistant professor April Hill, Ph.D., to isolate genes related to the embryonic development of sponges.

Hill's youthful enthusiasm, the collaboration with undergraduates, the nature of the research and the cutting-edge equipment - all of these represent a biology department that has changed and renewed itself over the past five years, and that now stands poised at the edge of the national scene.

The new facilities - classrooms, instructional and research labs - feature top-of-the-line laboratory equipment that rivals that at major research institutions. Technology is used to compile and share data. Microscopes are connected to computers and fitted with real-time digital cameras. Other machines can isolate, synthesize and duplicate DNA. All around, the design is meant to encourage individual and collaborative undergraduate research, with each student assigned his or her own storage drawer.

"This space is very similar to the kind of research space you'd find at other high-caliber institutions," Hill said. "The construction of this new facility and the procurement of new equipment will put us in a good place to secure grants to fund our research."

In addition to the new facilities, there are new faculty - seven of them in biology alone - in the past five years. Hill, who specializes in developmental genetics, is among them, as is her husband, Malcolm Hill, whose interest lies in evolutionary ecology. Rounding out the newcomers are: Olivia Harriott, microbiology/molecular biology; Jennifer Klug, zoology; Tod Osier, entomology; Shelley Phelan, cell biology; and Glenn Sauer, cell biochemistry.

"These are bright, new, recent Ph.D. graduates who come to us with state-of-the-art biological knowledge," said department chair Raymond Poincelot, Ph.D., a 25 year-veteran.

In addition to their teaching commitments, all are active researchers working with the support of government, foundation and other grants. And they are open to student collaboration; in fact, students have co-authored scientific papers, presented at conferences and pursued off-site internships at hospitals and health organizations. On campus, their research options include the effects of environmental pollutants on freshwater sponge growth with Malcolm Hill, the relationship between plants and herbivorous insects with Osier, and many others.

"The professors are always willing to sit down and take time with us," said Tetrault, who hails from Ludlow, Mass. "They're very accessible and very helpful."

O'Connor, of Rockville Centre, N.Y., concurred. "It's not so much a professor-student relationship, but a personal one," she said. "And that makes learning easier."

Finally, there's been a shift in the curriculum to one focused on the "new" biology: molecular biology. (Concentrations are available in marine biology and environmental science). Today, scientists are interested in the common, shared genetic pathways among all life forms, says Poincelot, as opposed to the study of plants, animals and insects as distinct organisms.

Knowledge of molecular biology is a hot commodity among pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies specializing in medical, agriculture and food technology. Poincelot said he frequently receives calls from recruiters eager to offer Fairfield grads positions with starting salaries of $35,000 to $50,000. One graduate was recently featured on a corporate recruiting brochure for Pfizer.

Other recent graduates have enrolled in graduate schools and medical schools at Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Tufts and New York universities, among others. Says Poincelot, "Wherever our students go, they do well, and that reflects well on us."

For more information about the department of biology, contact Poincelot at (203) 254-4000, ext. 2542.

Visit the other sciences in Bannow North

The Chemistry Department has two new undergraduate research labs, an advanced lab and a chemistry computer lab, each with16 stations, providing ample space for research and opportunities to work closely with professors. One is devoted to general chemistry, while the other is for organic chemistry projects, said Kraig Steffen, Ph.D., associate professor.

In addition to the new labs, the existing chemistry space is undergoing renovations to improve facilities, including the room that houses the department's state-of-the-art nuclear magnetic resonance instrument, Steffen said. The changes will benefit chemistry majors and many others, because most students majoring in biology, psychology and other sciences take chemistry courses to complete their studies.

In the Psychology Department, several new labs and interview and viewing rooms will mean more opportunities for student and student/faculty research projects, said Psychology Department Chair John McCarthy, Ph.D.

Located on Bannow's fourth floor, the Department will offer a series of interview rooms for meeting with subjects and a group dynamics room to observe small groups. The department plans to add television cameras in the group dynamics room to aid researchers studying the way people interact, McCarthy said. Another room has a one-way mirror and the department plans to add sound equipment to better study subjects.

The Physics Department is unveiling a new teaching suite that will take first-year students from studying theory in the classroom, to conducting experiments in a state-of-the-art laboratory, to analyzing data in a dedicated computer lab. The comprehensive approach "launches not only our physics majors, but students from other sciences as well as engineering and computer science," said Jack Beal, Ph.D., chair of the Physics Department.

In addition, two new research labs will support the work of Dr. Beal, who conducts environmental studies of air and water quality, and Nancy Haegel, Ph.D., professor of physics.

Dr. Haegel, assisted by students, is conducting experimental and theoretical studies to improve the performance of semiconductor detectors in space-based far-infrared astronomy. Fairfield's Physics Department was the only undergraduate program in the United States to receive an award in the NASA Explorer Technology program.

Photos by Jean Santopatre

Posted On: 09-15-2002 09:09 AM

Volume: 35 Number: 54