New Physics Building Opens 

Innovative Design Provides 'Teaching Space With a Future' 

Front entrance (pictured at right) of the 225,000 square-foot,$32 million new physics facility. 

"We knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity," says Liz Seiberling, physics professor and construction manager of the new $32 million physics facility, "so we put a lot of thought into the design."  Seiberling, a surface physicist, seized the chance to help shape her own future as a scientist and teacher by getting involved with the new Physics Building from the very earliest planning stages.  "I've always been interested in architecture," she explains, "so I participated in the design of the labs and teaching spaces.  That kind of developed into my being the building chair.  Then, as it progressed through the planning and design phase to the construction phase, I just took over the responsibilities until finally I ended up doing a lot of ordering of furniture and equipment.  It's been a five-year process." 

     Surprisingly, despite its 225,000 square feet, the impressive new structure, located on the corner of Museum Road and North-South Drive, fits agreeably into its environment.  A small alteration of the original plans (thanks, in part, to the action of concerned students) allowed for the preservation of two large oaks in front of the building, and once the remainder of the landscaping is finished, these venerable trees will lend a look of experience and maturity to the new facility.  
     The windows which dominate the front of the building accurately portray the sunny feeling one gets inside, especially in the spacious "lobby" area and on the third floor where the departmental and office space is located.  The offices (nearly all of which feature large windows) are organized around a central outdoor courtyard, that Seiberling hopes will be a focal point. "We tried to incorporate all kinds of interaction areas into the design," she explains, "so that people will be able to have more informal meetings, enhancing communication within the department."  
     Until their recent move, the Physics Department was scattered between Williamson Hall, McCarty Hall and the Nuclear Science Building.  Professors had to plan ahead to schedule meetings and secure access to suitably sized conference areas.  Although Seiberling admits that the new building "may at first appear compartmentalized," she notes with pride that, "if you look carefully, there are many little spaces tucked away for meetings and conferences, formal and informal," a feature she feels "lends to the spontaneity and ease with which we will now be able to work cooperatively." 
The spacious Physics Building lobby (pictured at  left) serves as a commons area, where students and faculty can meet, congregate, or get out of the rain.   

     Also of note is the building's "lecture-demo" hall.  Smaller than the typical lecture room, it seats 100 people and is fully set up for demonstrations.  "It's very close to being interactive where every seat can be connected on-line," Seiberling says.  "This is why I think this building has endless possibilities that we don't even realize yet--it's teaching space with a future!"  
     Another innovative addition to the building is the "project module," made up of four small (about 200 square feet) labs for student research.  "The idea," says Seiberling, "is that a senior physics major can go in and set up a project and do a senior thesis on it." Participants can spend the whole semester in their own labs, without the traditional nuisance of constantly having to break down and reassemble experiments to make room for the work of others.  Each of the four project labs in the module will be used for different types of experiments--one might have a laser, one a vacuum system, etc. 
     The many tangible benefits of the new building are obvious, including great publicity for the department on the national level and the additional space and better equipment necessary to enhance research efforts.  But perhaps the most exciting benefit is a more personal one:  the huge surge of excitement among faculty and staff. Seiberling agrees. "I overheard one professor say, "Wow, we're a real physics department now,'" she laughs, "so I think the new building has given us the sense that we're worth it and that the program will be good."