The first phase of the new Integrative and Quantitative (IQ) Center at Washington and Lee University is underway, with a projected opening date of June 2013. The center will be located on the second floor of the Telford Science Library and is supported by a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as well as funds from the university and individual donors.
Featuring the latest technology and instruments, the IQ Center will be devoted to data acquisition, data storage, computation, visual imaging and innovative teaching methods.
"The IQ Center will be a state-of-the-art teaching and learning space where interdisciplinary questions can be tackled and answers sought through collaboration," said Suzanne Keen, interim dean of the college and the Thomas H. Broadus Professor of English. "Not just science majors but all science students at W&L will now have the opportunity to manipulate and visualize information acquired through the scientific method."
"This generation is one of the most technologically savvy of all generations," said Helen I'Anson, professor of biology and head of the biology department, who is directing the program. "So we want to use technology to get students excited about science and see that it isn’t scary, that it's obtainable for them and how important it will be for their future."
For science majors, exposing them to new technologies that are already available at large companies will increase their competitiveness, according to Jamie Small, a 1981 graduate of W&L and a geology major from Midland, Tex. He is a former president of the W&L alumni board and a current member of the scientific advisory board. Small and his wife, Alison, a geophysicist, are supporters of the sciences at W&L and are enthusiastic investors in the IQ Center.
"We're in the oil and gas business, and we know that the imaging and technology that will be in the IQ Center are extraordinarily important for our line of work. The quicker students learn how to use this technology, the better off they'll be moving forward through their advanced degrees and into the work force," said Small.
According to I'Anson, although other liberal arts colleges have some of the new technology, W&L will be the first to have new technology that covers so many different areas in one space. "We're hoping that this will be phase one for the technology and that later we can expand and upgrade the abilities of the center," she said. "For example, we're raising funds right now to add 3D imaging, which can do so much across all the majors, making W&L the first liberal arts college to have something like that," she said.
I'Anson, representatives from the science departments, the mathematics department, the library and information technology will meet soon with architects to finalize plans for the IQ Center. Flexibility is a key element. "You could have one class wanting one configuration for one lab period and then the next minute another group could want something else. So it's really important that we're able to be flexible with the technology," said I'Anson.
The 4,841 square feet of the IQ Center will incorporate a suite of five different spaces:
Analytical Instruments Suite
Five separate rooms will be dedicated to imaging and analysis. Equipment will include fluorescent microscopes, upright light, phase contrast and polarized microscopes, a scanning electron microscope, and a confocal laser microscope.
"We already have all of the microscopes, including the scanning electron microscope and the confocal laser microscope, the two largest and most expensive items which were funded through two National Science Foundation grants. They will have dedicated rooms of their own," said I'Anson.
"Traditional" Computer Visualization Lab
Located next to the analytical instruments suite, this will be a high-end computational suite that can be used independently or in combination with the analytical instruments suite. For example, a student working on an organism under a microscope in one of the analytical instrument rooms will have the ability to transmit a live feed of the image to the rest of the class in the adjacent lab.
3D High-Performance Visualization Lab
This exceptional modern imaging lab is the largest space in the IQ Center and will potentially have space for 42 students, but can be divided in half to allow for two classes at the same time. It is student-centered, and the design allows for various configurations of the tables so that students can collaborate in groups more easily. Students will be able to share data and information when working on their lap tops. They will also be able project their work onto the main large screens to share with the whole class.
Plans call for the addition of 3D imaging, which would allow students to project images in 3D. "I particularly like the 3D imaging classroom," said Small. "That's what we use in our business, and that's where the technology is heading in all of the sciences."
Physical/Mechanical Experimentation Lab
According to I'Anson, this space is expected to be heavily used by the physics, engineering, computer science, mathematics and geology departments. It will be a physical and virtual sandbox for courses and research that integrate real-world components with high-speed recording capabilities. "For example, models can be built and tested, they can be videoed and then the data can be analyzed," said I'Anson.
Items can also be attached to the retractable scaffolding on the ceiling, and large segmented tables will allow for quick reconfiguration of the space. It will also have 3D inputs from laser scanners, and floor and ceiling video feeds.
Large Format and 3D Printing Room
This space will feature a large scale printer, a laser printer and a 3D fabrication machine. "We produce a lot of posters in science that are presented either in-house or at scientific meetings," said I'Anson, "so it will be a real bonus for us to be able to print publication-quality images and posters right here in the science center.
"The 3D fabrication machine uses a soft plastic and allows designs that have been produced in 3D to be extruded as a 3D model and actually produced for real," she added.
In addition to the five suites, the IQ Center will extend into the Great Hall outside the Telford Science Library to create an informal meeting and study space. It will include tables for small study groups and a wall unit for charging lap tops. Digital signage will display student projects, publications, presentations, what's happening in the IQ Center and the Science Center in general.
An office will be included for a coordinator/manager who will organize the use of the spaces in the IQ Center. "Because there are so many constituents who will want to use these rooms, we're not scheduling the rooms for a whole class for a whole semester," said I'Anson. "We'll ask people to sign up for short blocks of time so everybody can take advantage of this opportunity. We expect it to be in constant use."
Plans also include hiring W&L students as IQ Center Leaders and training them in the use of the equipment so they can help other students with the technology as needed.
I'Anson will also encourage other groups to use the IQ Center, such as the various science honor societies, WITS (Women in Technology and Science), WIMS (Women in Math and Science) as well as other groups on campus. "For example, the education programs will most likely want to use the student-centered learning space for practicing their practicums that they take to local schools," said I'Anson. "I think there will be a lot of interest across campus in using that particular space."