Seeing the Light

Winter 2014

Window On Discovery: Marked by a graceful sweep of glass and light, the new UTL offers an inspirational setting for science.
Window On Discovery: Marked by a graceful sweep of glass and light, the new UTL offers an inspirational setting for science.

The new Undergraduate Teaching Laboratories (UTL) building is only a proverbial stone’s throw away from Mergenthaler Hall, but the science facilities inside the sparkling, glass-fronted edifice are a world apart in terms of equipment, space, and aesthetics.

Just ask Yachen Cao.

The master’s candidate and former chemical and biomolecular engineering major from Shanghai spent two academic years “plus two summers” serving as a teaching assistant in the General Chemistry Lab in Mergenthaler, and he now TAs in the new building, which opened in September.

“In Mergenthaler, the biggest shortcoming was the underground setup, with the labs being down in the basement,” said Cao. “It sometimes felt like you were in the dungeon in Harry Potter where the potions classes were held. The new labs in the UTL are so much better with sunshine, huge windows, more organized bench settings, and open spaces—not to mention all the new, fancy equipment.”

Indeed, the new 105,000- square-foot facility offers the latest lab technology, including a computer lab; cold, tissue culture, procedure and autoclave rooms; and an instrument area with a nuclear magnetic resonance imaging section.

These components are arranged in a flexible and open layout that is designed to cultivate cross-disciplinary partnerships and synergistic research collaborations between students and faculty in departments and programs including Biology, Biophysics, Chemistry, Neuroscience, and Psychological and Brain Sciences. Engineering students take their required undergraduate science labs in the new space, as well.

“Training world-class engineers requires a world-class foundation in science, and that’s exactly what our students will receive in this fantastic new facility. The Whiting School of Engineering is fortunate to have such dedicated, talented partners in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences who will excite and inspire our students in this beautiful new space,” said Edward R. Scheinerman, vice dean for education at the Whiting School.

Katie Schwarz, a junior environmental engineering major, thinks the new facilities will help not only students but also teaching assistants like herself.

“As a TA for Intro Chem Lab, I feel I am able to help my students and see what they are doing more [in the new lab space] than TAs could in the past,” said Schwarz, who took her Intro Chem 1 and 2 labs in Mergenthaler. “The new labs are just more functional in my opinion. Everything the students need is near them, and there is less congestion and confusion.