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Catalyst for growth

Faculty members eagerly anticipating Core Science Facility

Campus and Community

By Kelly Foss

Dr. Fran Kerton has been watching the construction of the new Core Science Facility on the St. John’s campus with interest.

The chemistry professor will be moving into the facility when it is completed in 2019, and her twitter feed, @ChemMouse, often features photos of the latest progress on the site.

“One morning I was in early enough to catch one of the construction workers,” she said. “He told me they were on schedule, if not ahead of schedule, because this past winter was fairly mild. So, hopefully the weather will also be good this summer and they will be able to stay on track.”

Consultative process

Her partner, Dr. Chris Kozak, is also a chemistry professor. As one of the department’s representatives on the planning committee, he’s been involved with the building since the early days, and, through consultations and meetings with others, has helped come up with the list of ‘must haves’ and ‘would be nice to haves’ for the chemistry spaces in the new facility.

“I’ve had the privilege of working in chemistry departments at other universities that have had new chemistry buildings, so I saw what worked very well and what didn’t work,” he said. “I tried to incorporate those observations into the new building when I was asked to participate on the chemistry panel.”

Dr. Christopher Kozak
Dr. Christopher Kozak
Photo: Chris Hammond

Dr. Kozak says it was important to translate what the department currently has in terms of facilities and make them better, safer and more efficient and accessible in the new building.

“Our department’s main need is for safe, well-ventilated fume hood space and the Chemistry-Physics building [which opened in 1968] just can’t handle it anymore,” added Dr. Kozak. “Retrofitting a building of this age is just not viable and the new building will give us the research and teaching labs we really need.

“I’m confident if the new building is even 75 per cent of what we asked for and are expecting, we are going to be very happy with it.”

Needs of the future

From glass walls that allow people to see inside research labs to multipurpose rooms with modular designs and movable furnishings, Dr. Kozak believes the new facility will be able to meet the needs of the Faculty of Science far into the future.

“It’s very difficult to design a building that’s going to be around for 50 years when you don’t know what the needs of society and science will be,” he said. “We tried to keep it as flexible as possible. For example, the lab benches in the research labs will be modular, so if you need an instrument that takes up space, your benches can be moved or removed. A lot of the services will be fed from the ceiling instead of up from the floor, and that gives you flexibility as well. Some rooms are designed specifically to hold certain instruments, while others are more generic and can hold a variety of different types of instruments.”

He’s also pleased that the planning and steering committee had the foresight to allocate space for expansion.

“The fact that we’re having sections of the building as shell space for future growth and collaborative work with industrial partners is great forethought.” –Dr. Chris Kozak

“That’s the biggest problem in a lot of academic building designs,” said Dr. Kozak. “They’re building something based on their current needs and by the time they’ve moved into it, they’ve already outgrown it. The fact that we’re having sections of the building as shell space for future growth and collaborative work with industrial partners is great forethought. They will be getting a lot for their money out of this new building.”

Huge impact

The pair also believe the facility will have a “huge” impact on graduate student recruitment by providing an attractive environment that’s also state-of-the-art.

“At Memorial, teaching and research in the sciences are closely interconnected,” said Dr. Kozak. “We have a lot of undergraduates working with us and we try to incorporate our research into our teaching and vice versa. There was a real emphasis in the design of the building to have teaching labs in close proximity to the research labs to give undergraduate students direct exposure to a world-class facility and entice them by showing them, ‘If you stay on and do graduate research, these are the facilities you will be working in.’”

Real excitement

Dr. Kerton says if Memorial attracts good students because of the Core Science Facility, postdoctoral fellows, faculty and other researchers will ultimately be able to access more funding down the line.

“We happened to visit a friend at a university in New Brunswick when we were travelling around the Maritimes while on vacation, and he arranged lunch with his students,” she said. “Some of them are in their second and third year of undergraduate studies and they are now considering Memorial University as a place to go for graduate school. I think having a new building on the horizon has a lot to do with it.

“We’re standing on the threshold of something big here and, in that sense, it’s nice to see yourself as a pioneer.” –Dr. Christopher Kozak

“The building is a real catalyst for discussion,” added Dr. Kozak. “At a recent chemistry conference in Halifax, quite a few people were bringing it up. So there’s chatter out there about it, and that’s good. There’s real excitement about working in a new facility. We’re standing on the threshold of something big here and, in that sense, it’s nice to see yourself as a pioneer.”

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