Nearly every student at the University of Central Arkansas will have to take at least one science class in the Conway Corporation Center for Sciences.
When they do, they will not find the typical science building.
“Once I came to this building, I was just amazed,” said senior Zach Harrington. “It’s not the traditional look that we would normally have here on campus, so I really like that. I like how it’s really modern. It’s just crisp and clean. I am really proud of it.”
The new state-of-the-art building opened in January 2017.
Harrington, a Cabot native, said he paid attention as the building was being constructed, but he had no idea what to expect when it was finished.
“When I first came in, I was kind of confused. I wasn’t really sure if that was a classroom or what,” Harrington said.
The classrooms are laboratories; purposefully designed with full or partial glass walls to allow the outside world into each class, research project and experiment.
“We didn’t want this to be a traditional science building where everything takes place behind closed doors,” said Dr. Stephen Addison, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “Science should be on view, and we built the building accordingly.
“Makes people feel more positively about the scientific enterprise because what they see is ordinary people doing these things.”
Nicknamed CCCS, the building is a 50,000-square-foot addition to the Lewis Science Center, which was built in 1965. A 62,000-square-foot, two-story addition to the north side of that structure was added in 1987. The University recognized the need for a new science building since the previous one was long overdue for quite a few repairs.
Addison said he and many others within the college and in upper administration at the University looked at a several options for a campus location, as well as ways to pay for an expansion, renovation or construction of a new science building.
After some 20 years of work trying to bring an idea to fruition, the University found help from a local community partner. Conway Corporation, operator of Conway’s city-owned utility system, pledged $3 million to the University in December 2014 for the construction of CCCS.
The CCCS is three floors with each floor or area dedicated to different disciplines, but the spaces allow room for interdisciplinary collaboration.
The introductory physics laboratories are on the first floor, along with an engineering lab. Addison said students use the engineering lab to develop prototypes and build robotics. The space is also equipped with an outer door large enough to drive a motor vehicle into the building which will allow students the space needed to design engine prototypes and do other similar work.
The first floor also includes an optics lab with three vibration damped optical tables. This equipment will allow researchers to conduct various experiments that require advanced optic instrumentation and vibration isolation. These advanced experiments transcend physics and biology disciplines.
On the second floor are biology and microbiology labs with a research area designated for students. That floor also has a “tissue culture” and autoclave room. The third floor includes a faculty research lab and a genetics lab.
Addison says the laboratories are “stunningly well-equipped” with the same or better equipment than students would use in their future employment.
“Other places may have more expansive equipment, they may have more advanced equipment, but nobody else has this kind of equipment available to undergraduates where they can use it day in and day out. They are the principal users,” Addison said.
At the CCCS, students have access to “state-of-the-art equipment like they would be using when they went out to work.”
Addison said, “What industry is using is what we have.”
Even highbrow institutions either do not have the same state-of-the-art equipment or they have it, but students are disallowed from using it, Addison said.
“We have an electron microscope that is the envy of everyone around at this point,” he said.
He gives other examples, such as the equipment in the third-floor genetics lab that will measure in the nanoliter volumes. In years past, the University had a spectrometer that could typically measure 260 to 280 nanometers or a cuvette, which is a glass vessel, that could measure about 250 microliters. Now, the University has equipment that can measure in the nanoliter volumes, which University scientists describe as “insanely sensitive measurements,” and the equipment is being used in undergraduate teaching laboratories.
That is an exciting prospect for senior Martha Kabengele.
“I think I’m more excited about the lab,” Kabengele said, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “We get to see those new instruments and see what we can do with all these instruments that we have available now.”
Kabengele graduates in May 2018 and hopes to attend medical school to become a pediatrician.
While she will enjoy the building during her last year, she is a little disappointed that she may not have time to fully appreciate the building and everything it has to offer.
Addison said the building was constructed in a way to ensure that the facility would be adaptable to future scientific innovation.
“Twenty years from now, this building will still be great because it’s designed that way,” he said.
Not only does the Conway Corporation Center for Sciences (CCCS) house research facilities for students and faculty, but it is also a place where the community and students can come together to be transported to another planet in order to learn about astronomy, science and the world around them. The Dr. Edmond E. Griffin Planetarium is located inside CCCS and serves as an astronomy and science education resource center for central Arkansas.
Inside is a digital projection system that brilliantly displays views of the night sky onto a 40-foot diameter dome above, while the viewer observes below in one of 94 reclining seats, looking up at the virtual universe.
Department of Physics and Astronomy professors, Dr. Scott Austin and Dr. Debra Burris, run the Griffin Planetarium and the UCA Observatory, which hosted more than 6,000 visitors between January and May 2017.
The planetarium offers hour-long, weekly shows to school groups and to the general public at no charge. Each show includes a tour of the cosmos viewed from the Conway sky and virtual flights to various destinations in the universe as the first half. The second half of the show is a full-dome movie. Between May and October, the shows were “Two Small Pieces of Glass-the Amazing Telescope,” “Secret Lives of Stars,” “Invaders of Mars,” and “Stars of the Pharaohs.” The planetarium has been so popular with students and the community, each show has had lines winding out the door.
The schedule of full-dome movies can be found at the planetarium website uca.edu/physics/planetarium.
In addition to the regularly scheduled public shows, the planetarium hosts field trip shows for school groups, summer camps and other groups. The Griffin Planetarium also plays host to special events such as the eclipse viewing in August.
One special visitor to the planetarium has been Dr. Sue Griffin, the wife of Dr. Edmond E. Griffin, for whom the planetarium is named.
“When I walked in the door, I was really stunned,” said Dr. Sue Griffin, “It’s just right in front of you and Ed’s name right on there is just so amazing.”
Each time she walks into the building, she said she is reminded of the reasons she gifted the University $300,000 to construct the planetarium.
Sue Griffin said she and her husband both grew up in rural Arkansas with strong family bonds and limited resources. They both pursued science as a career, and they both rose to career prominence. Edmond was a professor and chair of the Department of Biology before his death in 2002. Sue continues to work at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in the Reynolds Center on Aging.
She said she recognizes that many of the visitors to the planetarium may also come from homes with limited resources, which is why she worked to be sure that admission to the Griffin Planetarium is free.
“Students can still come to the planetarium,” she said. “I feel like they will come there and think they can do it because Ed and Susie Griffin did it and I can too.”