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Autumn 2003 | Volume 26, Number 4 | Features

A Place of Discovery

Custom-Designed Building Catapults SPU’s Science Program to a New Level

You probably don’t need a quiz to drive home the point that science has everything to do with the nature and quality of our daily lives. Try scanning newspaper headlines: “Power Outage Darkens Northeast,” “NASA Launches Infrared Telescope Observatory,” “Spawning Salmon Carry Industrial Pollutants.”

After a two-year construction process, SPU's state-of-the-art science facility stands ready to meet the needs of 21st century student.

Scientists and non-scientists alike face a dilemma: How do we keep up with the new discoveries that are changing our world so profoundly?

For students and faculty at Seattle Pacific University, the ability to explore God’s world — and thus make intelligent personal and public policy decisions in science-related areas — has increased exponentially in recent months. An award-winning science facility dedicated to outstanding teaching and research opened its doors this autumn.

The building represents years of imagination, planning and construction. It also symbolizes a new commitment to the sciences at SPU.

“As Christians, we must be scientifically literate if we have any hope of making a difference in the world,” says SPU President Philip Eaton. “This building demonstrates our vision for the sciences at Seattle Pacific.”

That vision, says Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Congdon, is about shared discovery — and ultimately about engaging the culture and changing the world. “We live in a time of revolution,” he says. “To be effective sources of light and hope in this technological world, we want to fully integrate the language and practice of scientific discovery into the fabric of a Seattle Pacific education.”

Congdon, a longtime professor of biology at SPU, served as faculty champion for the new building. After years of teaching and researching in the Miller Science Learning Center (MSLC), it was clear to him that the building’s open lab concept was fundamentally flawed. “There were not only organizational problems with multiple disciplines sharing the same lab space,” he says, “there were safety problems as well.”

When the science faculty brought a list of urgent needs to Eaton, he agreed that SPU’s science program needed rethinking. “But I said we would never make a major investment in anything without vision,” recalls the president. “And so, with the faculty, we proceeded to craft a vision.”

It was a turning point, says Vice President for Academic Affairs Les Steele. “We started to think together as a community about why it is important for a Christian university to have a strong science pro-gram — and about what a new program and a new building might look like.”

Out of the discussion emerged a plan for a science curriculum focused on three things: training professional scientists, preparing science teachers and assisting students of all disciplines to become scientifically literate citizens. The plan included a centerpiece building dedicated to the foundational concepts of undergraduate research and public access to the sciences.

Today, the new Science Building features eight undergraduate research laboratories and 11 teaching laboratories with shared instrumentation suites. A “discovery room” on the first floor will feature science displays; windows in the laboratories enable visitors to see “science in action”; and a 70-seat lecture hall accommodates public events as well as classes. Departing from the shared-space model of the MSLC, the new facility allocates dedicated space to specific areas of scientific study and their respective sub-disciplines. However, cross-disciplinary study is encouraged, says Congdon, who notes that the building’s design allows for biology, chemistry, biochemistry and psychology to work in collaboration.

When SPU junior Candice Lengyel first stepped into the Science Building this fall, she couldn’t believe her eyes. “I was just bubbling — it almost took my breath away,” says the future medical student. “Everything is custom-designed for what the professors had in mind for us, and that is so exciting.”

Lee Buckingham agrees. The senior biology major and teaching assistant says students are enjoying the Science Building so much that they linger in the labs long after class is over. “Nobody ever stuck around in the old labs, but students just really love this building.”

Perhaps most impressive are the undergraduate research projects already underway in the new building. One such project, led by SPU Assistant Professor of Chemistry Gregory Phelan and students Kolby Allen and Daniel Rowe, resulted in a paper recently submitted to a peer-reviewed journal of the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers. The paper asserts that different combinations of light-emitting material may result in brighter and more efficient light-emitting devices. How is that significant? Imagine being able to watch a color TV as thin as a sheet of paper and less expensive than the Plasma versions currently on the market.

Seattle Pacific’s recommitment to the sciences has resulted in the largest enrollment in science disciplines in the University’s history — an increase of 35 percent over last year. To top it off, the opportunities for SPU science majors after graduation have never been better. Last year’s premed graduates boasted a 92 percent acceptance rate into medical school.

“Our science faculty is taking our program to the next level,” says Eaton. “We now have exceptional facilities and a great team of scientists leading the way into new territory.”

Says Congdon: “We’re putting students on a catapult and trying to give them enough velocity that they can keep up with the rapid increase in scientific knowledge and application. The field is moving fast, so we need to give them momentum.”


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