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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Do we need labs or cafes?

Published: October 5, 2007
Section: Opinions

The construction of the upcoming Shapiro Science Center behind the the current science complex is a mixed blessing, say many of the people working in the old buildings it is meant to replace. Although all agree that the new building will benefit Brandeis in the long run, construction has made life is a little more complicated than normal for Brandeis' scientific community.

For some, the building is unequivocally positive. The best thing about it for me is that the new space should help us recruit and retain outstanding young science faculty, said Professor Gregory Petsko of the Biochemistry and Chemistry departments.

This was not an uncommon theme among professors interviewed. Professor Lizbeth Hedstrom of the biology department, said that the current facilities were in pretty poor shape and that we are losing faculty because of that. Like Petsko, she said new research facilities would help in hiring new, world-class faculty.

The plans for the new building are certainly worlds away from the aging concrete hallways of the current science departments, with their stained floors, odd smells, and drafts between different floors and departments.

But the construction of the Center, which will take place in two phases, has introduced some new challenges.

It's a pain in the butt right now, said Mary, an assistant in the Chemistry Office. She said that it was difficult to get around, and that we had a fire in the lab a few months ago, and the emergency team had to go all the way around.

The construction site has eliminated parking and complicated access to much of the facility, with some doors boarded up or leading into thin air. However, Professor Irving Epstein of the Chemistry department said that the disruptions amounted to little more than blast noise during classes, more dust around the lab, difficulties for visitors to find us…nothing major.”

There is more to the new facility than just its construction. According to students and teachers, in addition to more teaching space, the Shapiro Science Center will introduce two new areas to the science complex biochemistry teaching labs, and a public atrium with a cafe or food court.

Many people seem excited about the former Nicole Mushero, a graduate student of Biochemistry, said that Brandeis has never had dedicated teaching labs for biochemistry before. This means that there are no Biochemistry lab courses, only Biology or Chemistry courses cross-listed in the Biochemistry department. The new center will bridge this gap in facilities. Mushero seemed more confused about the atrium and cafe, saying it seemed uneccesary…but from what I hear it's the intention of the donor.

Noah Wolfson '08 was more blunt about his feelings, saying that the cafe would be built instead of autoclaves, the high-temperature devices used to sterilize lab equipment. According to Wolfson, it would be inconvenient and possibly unsafe if students had to take used lab equipment from the center to the autoclave facilities in the older buildings. It just shows how they[the designers] feel about new equipment rather than some kind of food court space.

Petsko had a different take on the use of the space. Science is only partly about equipment and facilities. A lot of it is the human interactions, and many of these happen by accident, he said. Having common spaces where people can meet informally should do a lot to keep Brandeis a great place for people to work together.