News and Media
Geology Facilities Undergo Renovation
Jun. 29, 2011
A $925,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will transform the Oberlin geology department with funding to renovate and expand research and research training facilities in the Carnegie Building.
The grant is being administered through the NSF’s Academic Research Infrastructure (ARI) program, which was designated to support renovations in existing academic research facilities. Oberlin’s geology proposal was an ideal match for the grant program because it encourages projects that improve scientific infrastructure and shared research space.
The geology department has a critical need for upgrades because its home in the 100-year-old Carnegie Building was not designed for laboratory sciences. Research areas are spread throughout three floors of Carnegie and in the basement of adjacent Severance Hall. In addition, academic offices serve double duty as inadequate laboratories for faculty research and student projects.
“Right now, we don’t have laboratories. Our research space fluctuates,” says Oberlin Geology Professor Karla Parsons-Hubbard, who is chair of the department. “In the summer, our faculty have to move their projects into storage or into teaching labs when classes aren’t in session.”
Another area of concern is the faculty members’ increased use of advanced instrumentation and equipment in an already cramped facility, with space required for the Scanning Electron Microscope, petrographic microscopes, optical scanner, and computer-based research lab, as well as additional sample preparation equipment.
With the NSF grant, the college plans to separate office and research space, locating six faculty labs in a centralized research corridor. The labs will be outfitted for modern research with hoods, lab benches with wet lab amenities, high-speed broadband computer connections, layout space, and desks for student researchers. Grant funds will also partially support renovations to the rock preparation lab, the existing geochemistry lab, and SEM-EDX laboratory.
By modernizing the research labs with spaces appropriate for wet lab work, modern instrumentation, and work with toxic materials, faculty will be able to expand into new research fields currently inaccessible due to facility limitations. In addition, the creation of a central research lab corridor will improve collaboration among researchers, both faculty and students, by better supporting cross-disciplinary work and increasing the visibility of student research.
“Having everything on the same floor will enhance student-faculty research,” says Parsons-Hubbard. “The renovation project will have a direct benefit of improving communication and mentoring. Creating a visible research wing that students will pass through on their way to classrooms will raise the profile of student projects, and may encourage younger students to participate in research earlier in their college careers.
“The geology department has a particularly strong record of success in faculty-student collaboration,” she says. “Exit surveys of senior geology students repeatedly praise the department for faculty accessibility and the personal camaraderie that develops among geology majors.”
The Geology department renovations, which will be completed prior to the start of the fall 2011 semester, will conform to construction guidelines for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certification of the National Green Building Council.