An Overview Of The Vision For The Baylor Sciences Building -- Dr. Ben Pierce

May 21, 2002

by Lori Scott Fogleman

Dr. Ben Pierce, professor of biology and associate dean for sciences at Baylor, oversaw the academic planning for the Baylor Sciences Building, working closely with the chairs of the six science departments. Below are Pierce's remarks from the May 17 groundbreaking ceremony.

There are many impressive and significant things about this new science facility: its size, its cost, the cutting edge technology that will fill its spaces. But the real significance of the building is not in the physical structure, but rather in the way it will transform sciences at Baylor University. This building will create a new culture of science at Baylor, a culture that will produce not just excellent scientists, doctors, nurses and teachers, but graduates who will be future world leaders in science and health care.

This vision of a new culture of science at Baylor is reflected in four major themes that run throughout the new science building. The first of these themes is multidisciplinary science. Science of the 21st century will be much more multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary than science of the 20th century. The most important questions that science is being asked to address today are complex, multidimensional problems that cannot be solved by a single discipline. These include problems like global warming, our aging population, dwindling water resources and new and reemerging diseases. These are not problems of chemistry, or physics or biology, but problems that can only be solved by combining the creative energies of scientists from all the sciences.

This new facility will help build bridges between the traditional science disciplines at Baylor and will give our students experience working in a multidisciplinary environment.

Most multidisciplinary science buildings include two or at most three disciplines. This facility will bring together, under one roof, six different departments: biology, chemistry and biochemistry, geology, mathematics, physics, and psychology and neuroscience. That is really unique.

The building will be anchored by five interdisciplinary centers, where students and faculty from different disciplines will come together to study cutting edge problems in scientific research and teaching. The building will also house our medical humanities program, so that our students are grounded not only in modern science, but also in the humanities, ethics and faith.

A second major theme of the facility is an interactive science community. As professors, we like to think that we are the most important element in the learning process, but study after study has demonstrated that students learn as much or more from other students in the class, as they do from the professor. It is clear that much of the best learning takes place outside of the classroom, as students interact with each other and interact one-on-one with their professors.

In this new facility, we have intentionally programmed in spaces that encourage and promote this type of informal interaction and learning that is so effective. There are no separate faculty or student lounges in the building. Instead, at the center of the building will be large a four-story atrium, filled with tables, couches, and chairs that will serve as a central gathering place for students and faculty alike. There are also smaller, more intimate gathering spaces scattered throughout the upper floors. These spaces will promote an interactive science community.

A third theme of the building is creating a culture of discovery. There is one thing about which everyone in science education agrees: that the best way to learn science is to actually do it. There is no educational experience that is more valuable than participating in the act of discovery -- working side-by-side with scientists doing research.

At the present time, we have many more students who want to participate in research than our present facilities allow. The new sciences building will greatly expand the amount of space allocated to research. There are 90 research laboratories planned for the new building, as well as an additional 30,000 square feet of research space set aside for future faculty. These facilities will allow many more students to be involved in this culture of discovery and allow our faculty to carry out research at a higher level.

The fourth theme reflected in the design of the new sciences building is future flexibility. The science facilities that we create over the next two years will need to serve Baylor for the next 50 years. It is impossible for us to know that the nature of science teaching and research 50 years from now. So we can't really construct a science building for the year 2050. But what we can do is create a building that is flexible and that can change as the nature of science teaching and research changes over time. The way you do this in the sciences is to design the laboratories and classrooms on a modular basis, so that the spaces and their uses can change over time.

All the laboratories spaces in this new facility are designed with the same utility infrastructure; and all the utilities come down from above. We will keep the utilities out of the walls, so that walls can be moved and labs expanded and contracted over time as needs change. The classrooms are also designed on a modular basis, so that their size can also change over time as the nature of science instruction changes.

These then are the four themes that reflect our vision for the future of the sciences and Baylor and that have served as the guiding principles for the design of the new science building: (1) fostering multidisciplinary science; (2) encouraging an interactive science community; (3) creating a culture of discovery; and (4) ensuring future flexibility.

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