Fall 2001
Vol 18 No. 3

Burst of Energy

Amazing Discovery

Heart for Teaching

Tool Shed Development

Evolution of a Seal

Samford Ranks Fifth

Class Notes


'New Burst of Energy Upon the Sciences' Underway
Sciencenter Celebration Activities October 17-27

Biology, chemistry and physics students are using Samford's new $27 million SCIENCENTER even as workmen put finishing touches on the building's exterior.

The planetarium of Samford's new $27-million SCIENCENTER is the largest in a teaching institution in Alabama. There are fewer than six like it in the nation.

It is a leading example of a trend to support education with the latest visual imagery available.

Imagine entering a darkened 100-seat room with tiered seating, enclosed in a 40-foot dome with a 200-degree panorama projection system. The $250,000 projector creates a star field on the domed ceiling. A professor explains the mysteries of the night sky using a theater-quality sound system with multiple speakers. The effect is one of total immersion in the universe. Once the lecture is completed, projection equipment is lowered into a storage room, and the facility quickly converts into a lecture hall.

The conservatory interior is divided into three climate zones--desert, tropical and regional.

This 21st century learning tool--one of less than a dozen high-technology, large-scale, immersive video theaters in the world--anchors the north end of Samford's new science facility.

At the south end of the building stands a 2,000-square-foot conservatory, manufactured in England by Amdega Machin, a company that has specialized in such structures since 1874. This striking component--glass fused with structural steel framing--conjures images of 19th century European glass pavilions.

But conservatory technology is strictly 2lst century, with the main interior space divided into three separately controlled climate zones--desert, tropical and regional.

This fall, the planetarium and conservatory, with adjacent classroom and lab space within the SCIENCENTER, are providing Samford students, faculty and visitors with learning opportunities unequaled in the Southeast. Opened in September, the building will be dedicated in a series of programs in late October to which alumni and friends are invited (See Schedule).

Student learning is the dominant focus in the new home of Samford's biology, chemistry and physics departments. The 90,000-square-foot building features the latest in electronic, audiovisual and wet-lab learning opportunities.

Laboratory work has always been an integral part of biology study, but Samford'ís new SCIENCENTER makes labs central to the learning experience.

"The biology department has designed its teaching around the laboratory," said department chair Ron Jenkins. "We have 10 teaching labs and only three small lecture rooms."

This design allows for more problem-based learning activities, Jenkins said.

"Our teaching will emphasize PBL and inquiry-based learning with group work and hands-on experimentation," he said. "Students learn best when they are the creative ones, rather than merely copying and memorizing class notes."

Other forward-looking features designed to enhance learning are incorporated into the SCIENCENTER, including:

  • Teaching space dedicated to biochemistry, one of the fastest growing areas of current scientific research.

  • More extensive lab space in all three disciplines, which enables more faculty/ student research and additional collaborative research between departments.

  • Space and technical capabilities to offer "a more personalized level of instruction, as well as the technology to show illuminative simulations at some of the usual "sticking points in courses," said physics chair Tom Tarvin. Samford faculty praise the instrumentation of the SCIENCENTER.

Biology professor Larry Davenport projects a plant anatomy slide onto a monitor for, from left, Annalee Heard, Jody Miller and Carrie Edwards.

"There is no lack of excellent microscopes, electrophoresis equipment, spectrophotometers or any equipment necessary for lab/field experimentation," said Jenkins. "We are at the forefront of electronic instruction." Or, as Tarvin said, "My overall feeling is one of Behold! All things are become new."

Chemistry chair Morgan Ponder praised another benefit of the new SCIENCENTER.

"Having all three natural science departments under one roof should enhance interaction between the departments and foster more interdisciplinary activity," he said.

Ponder also cited so basic an improvement as building ventilation.

"It sounds mundane, but improved ventilation is one of the most dramatic changes the building provides," he said. "It meets the latest safety standards in protecting individuals working in the laboratories and other areas from harmful vapors."

Samford President Thomas E. Corts forecast a year ago that the SCIENCENTER would herald "a burst of new energy and emphasis upon the sciences" at Samford. This fall, the energy burst is upon us.

Jonathan Jarvis studies the magnetic field of a long, straight wire in physics lab.