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Williams Hall previewed in open house

Brandon Bell
News Editor

On Thursday, April 26, tours of classrooms, offices and lab spaces within Ruth W. Williams Hall of Life Science were given by the Danforth Professor of Biology Dean Fraga and the Robert E. Wilson Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Mark Snider.

The tours were part of a series of open houses intended to give members of the campus community a preview of major construction projects currently underway at the College. Tours of Armington Physical Education Center, Stevenson Hall and the lower level of Lowry Center were also offered the same week.

When it fully opens in fall 2018, Williams Hall will host classrooms, labs and collaboration spaces primarily intended to support programs in the life sciences — including biology, biochemistry and molecular biology — and will directly connect to Severance Hall. The walls of the building’s spaces are color-coded to their purpose. According to Fraga, orange will represent student study spaces, blue will represent collaborative spaces and green will represent teaching and faculty office spaces.

In addition to new spaces, the building will play host to the College’s first confocal microscope, which will be used to enhance both research and classroom activities.

“[The confocal microscope] will allow students to study molecular events inside living cells in real time,” Fraga said. “It will allow them to conduct sophisticated experiments we were not previously able to do on campus.”

According to Fraga, a major goal of the spaces within the building was to encourage a greater integration between chemistry and the life sciences. Designers tried to meet this goal, he said, by having equipment and study spaces shared between the building’s labs and classrooms.

“Any time you can bring people together, you have a chance for something wonderful to happen, simply due to the spontaneous conversations we have and the connections we make when we engage each other informally,” Fraga said. “In addition, coordination between the various [chemistry and the life sciences] programs is now required, given the shared classrooms and labs.”

Previously in Mateer Hall, if a professor went on leave, lab areas they were using were simply left unused. With areas for multiple research cohorts being shared in the same lab space, this will no longer be the case.

Williams Hall also intends to offer improved teaching and learning experiences. During the tour, Fraga said this was exemplified in a large classroom on the second floor that he referred to as the “Think Tank,” which connects to two different labs. Because the laboratories will not contain the same hazardous chemicals as others in the building, materials can be brought into the classroom from the lab. Fraga said that these features will allow professors to “toggle between theory and practice” — something that may have required walking up multiple floors in Mateer. While no specific plans have been made, Fraga said this teaching model could be particularly useful for environmental science classes.

While the majority of the building’s facilities are intended to support S.T.E.M. classes, rooms were designed which could also be useful for humanities classes. For example, the Martha Chase Classroom on the ground floor features lighting and acoustics that could be useful for classes that involved playing frequent film or media.

“All other classrooms will be available for scheduling through the normal means,” Fraga said, noting that the classrooms in the building were versatile and could support classes from other departments and conference meetings the College hosted.

Faculty offices in Williams Hall are expected to be open this June before it officially opens for classes next semester. Construction of the building, which was funded via $41 million in alumni donations, began in the summer of 2017 with the demolition of Mateer Hall.

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