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New science building, institute herald new era at Colgate

By Mark Walden on September 14, 2007
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Colgate celebrated the sciences this weekend with two major events: the dedication of the new Robert H.N. Ho Science Center and the launch of the Harvey Picker Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies in the Sciences and Mathematics.

Guests visit the visualization lab at the Ho Science Center. (Photo by Ian Domes)

Alumni, guests, and friends of the university were on hand for a range of activities that showcased Colgate’s tradition of excellence in the sciences and its vision for exploring the new frontiers of knowledge in the 21st century.

Stories:Science building, institute spur new methods of exploration
Institute fosters creation of knowledge through collaboration
Building offers setting to better educate 21st century researchers
Aveni welcomes ‘new light’ of Ho Science Center
Science center has significant architectural impact
Professors, students to take full advantage of technology
Utica Observer-Dispatch story
News 10 Now story

Photos:Images from weekend

Video:Take a look inside building
Robert H.N. Ho’s remarks
Adam Burnett talks about GIS labs, weather station
Architect Kevin Triplett discusses building
David Baird details technology in center

Robert H.N. Ho ’56 (center) watches Colgate students work Saturday in the new interdisciplinary science center that bears his name. (Photo by Ian Domes)

Science building, institute spur new methods of exploration

“A glorious day for Colgate.”

That is how President Rebecca Chopp on Saturday described the dedication of the Robert H.N. Ho Science Center and the formal launch of the Harvey Picker Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies in the Sciences and Mathematics.


Robert H.N. Ho’s remarks

In front of dozens of Colgate alumni, professors, students, and friends gathered in the gleaming second floor of the science center, Chopp spoke of the unprecedented opportunities and access that will push the university into the forefront of interdisciplinary scientific research in the 21st century.

Chopp spoke movingly of the contributions of Robert H.N. Ho ’56, whose $27 million confirmed commitment to the science center project turned a long-held dream into a stunning 121,000-square-foot reality.

The president cited the significant contributions Ho had made to Colgate in past years, and how their shared vision for the university’s future developed into a genuine friendship that she cherishes.

She also thanked the many alumni, faculty and staff members, and workers from around Central New York who played key roles in “this magnificent building.”

Provost and dean of the faculty Lyle Roelofs and trustee Denis F. Cronin ’69 both mentioned how the vision and contributions of Charles McClennen, the longtime geology professor who died in January, were crucial to the project, which was first discussed some 10 years ago.

“The building is Charlie’s last gift to us,” said Roelofs, whose remarks, along with the other speakers’, are to be placed in a time capsule at the center that will be opened in 2057..

Roelofs took Ho and his guests, some of whom traveled from Hong Kong and Canada, on a tour of the building earlier in the day.

Ho said the high-tech classrooms and labs, including the 3D visualization lab, will be the envy of other liberal arts institions everywhere.

While acknowledging how proud and happy he is to contribute to the center, Ho said: “Although I have delivered the bricks and mortar to Colgate, I believe the real gift, the most enduring gift, is the use to which the faculty and students of colgate will put this new building.”

Members of the audience stood and applauded as Ho, citing a Chinese proverb, concluded his remarks by saying — “I drank water, and I remembered its source.”

– Tim O’Keeffe, Office of Public Relations and Communications


Harvey Picker ’36 talks with guests at the luncheon held in his honor at the Hall of Presidents on Saturday. (Photo by Ian Domes)

Institute will foster creation of knowledge through collaboration

Harvey Picker ’36, a trustee emeritus whose family has supported Colgate for more than 70 years, distilled the theme of Colgate’s Celebrating the Sciences weekend into one simple yet powerful statement: “No one science will get you where you need to go in the outside world.”


Gerald Fischbach MD ’60

Bruce Selleck ’71, director of Picker Institute


With his most recent gift to Colgate, Picker endowed the Harvey Picker Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies in the Sciences and Mathematics, whose inaugural director is Bruce Selleck ’71, Harold Orville Whitnall Professor of geology.

The institute’s mission — to foster the creation of new knowledge that is obtainable only through collaboration among faculty and students from disparate disciplines — will be realized in the Robert H.N. Ho Science Center, whose revolutionary design has intermingled offices, study lounges, classroom spaces, and laboratories for research in biology, geography, geology, environmental studies, and physics and astronomy.

Gerald D. Fischbach, MD ’60, P’87, H’03, a trustee emeritus and one of Colgate’s leading alumni in the sciences, gave the keynote address at Saturday’s luncheon honoring Picker.

Fischbach said that in today’s tumultuous times, Colgate, with its new Ho Science Center, is perfectly poised — because of its size, its superb faculty, its values, and its beauty — to help reinvigorate the sciences in America.

“Universities and colleges will be judged by what they have contributed to our understanding of the brain in its broadest sense,” said Fischbach, who studies Parkinson’s disease and autism.

“Brain research is fundamentally interdisciplinary,” he said, in that it requires understanding of physics, chemistry, neuroscience, medicine, and even philosophy. “There are huge ethical issues of what is really informed consent? What kinds of risks are allowable? A liberal education can help us understand not what can we do, but what should we do.”

– Barbara Brooks, Office of Public Relations and Communications


The Robert H.N. Ho Science Center is 121,000 square feet and has more than 50 laboratories. (Photo by Ian Domes)

Building offers setting to better educate 21st century researchers

Modern scientists must be creative communicators who know how to do research, find new problems, and navigate the intersections between the sciences and the humanities.

This was the assessment of nine panelists, representing colleges and universities, research institutes, and private industry, who gathered in the Meyerhoff Auditorium at the Robert H.N. Ho Science Center on Saturday morning to discuss “Emerging Issues in Science Careers.”

Their conversation quickly turned to the question of how America’s academic community can nurture these imaginative investigators when trends indicate a looming shortage of candidates for PhD-level programs.

The answer starts as early as kindergarten. That’s when students should be introduced to the idea of scientific exploration as a creative activity.

“Science needs to be cool,” said panelist Linda Jones, professor of engineering at Smith College.

Jones also noted that, “as a nation, we have not afforded all students the opportunity to experience science at a young age.”

If America’s PhD population is to grow, the sciences must become an intellectual destination for individuals of all races, ethnicities, and genders.

Colgate administrators say the Ho Science Center is an example of the steps the university is taking to address America’s need for a diverse population of researchers grounded in the liberal arts. Its laboratories, which promote faculty-student research projects and interdisciplinary cooperation, go hand-in-hand with a curriculum that encourages wide-ranging scholarship before and after the declaration of a major.

“This building stands as an important message about our commitment to the sciences,” said dean of the college Charlotte Johnson.

– Mark Walden, Office of Public Relations and Communications


Students work Friday in one of the new research laboratories in the Ho Science Center. (Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko)

Aveni welcomes ‘new light’ of Ho Science Center

“Think unorthodox curricular thoughts and talk to someone in another discipline,” advised Tony Aveni, professor of astronomy and anthropology and Native American studies, adding “I think Ho Science Center certainly facilitates that.”

Aveni was the guest speaker at Friday’s Science Colloquium, in which he gave a “true and partly made up” history of five decades in the sciences at Colgate.

Harking back to 1963, when he began teaching at Colgate and there were only 350 students and 112 faculty members, Aveni discussed the evolution of the sciences on campus over the years.

Specifically crediting the progressive climate of the late ’60s and early ’70s, Aveni said this was when an interdisciplinary focus forged ahead.

“It was all about re-envisioning ways of knowing, and thinking of new ways to study,” he said.

This was also around the time when Aveni and others started an archaeoastronomy program on campus, the idea of which sprouted at, where else, a faculty tunk.

“There’s plenty of envisioning happening on campus right now, so here we are conducting a ritual predicting of what’s going to happen in this new science building,” he said.

Refusing to peer into the future, Aveni did conclude with his high hopes for the continued development of the sciences on campus and the role the Ho Science Center will play in that.

“Our new and wonderful home is very closely aligned to the winter solstice sunset,” he joked. “I would like to wish us all to welcome the new light into the Colgate environment.”

Aleta Mayne, Office of Public Relations and Communications


Kevin Triplett (left), senior associate at Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, and Rich April, Dunham Beldon Jr. Professor of geology, prepare to discuss the architecture of the Ho Science Center. (Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko)

Science center has significant architectural impact

“A science building should be as fascinating as science itself,” said Kevin Triplett, senior associate at architecture firm Shepley Bulfinch, describing the philosophy behind the Ho Science Center’s design.


Design of the new building


Take a video tour


Triplett was part of a Friday afternoon panel discussion on Colgate’s architecture and the campus’s newest building.

Triplett outlined the principles and design challenges presented by the project’s weighty parameters — a structure two times the size of the next-largest building on campus that needed to fit within the architectural vernacular; a site with a 40-foot change in elevation; and the intention to support new models of collaborative, interdisciplinary learning and research.

Geology professor Richard April began the discussion by outlining how the building came about, from 1997 when the departments housed in Lathrop Hall first identified a need for new space, to the decision to conceptualize a completely new kind of science building, to the approval process that led to its construction.

Geology professor Connie Soja shared the design plans for the Linsley Geology Museum, and biology professor Damhnait McHugh reflected upon the other panelists’ presentations.

“In terms of [the building's] contributions to the campus, I remember being on the committee that helped to select the architects, and hearing architects talk about the challenges of this site,” said the panel moderator, art and art history professor Robert McVaugh.

“I want to share my congratulations to Shepley and everyone involved in accomplishing the kind of integration and scale that we have here. It is in architectural terms spectacular — and an appropriate solution.”

Rebecca Costello, Office of Public Relations and Communications


A panel discussion on technology in the sciences kicks off the weekend’s events at the Ho Science Center. The session was held in the Meyerhoff Auditorium. (Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko)

Professors, students to take full advantage of technology

The increasingly busy intersection of technology and scientific research was explored this morning in a panel discussion moderated by Lyle Roelofs, provost and dean of the faculty.



GIS labs and weather station

Visualization lab, smart classrooms

Geography professor Adam Burnett discussed how his research will be augmented by the new facilities at the Ho Science Center.

A cartographer and climatologist, Burnett said the geographic information system (GIS) lab will be a critical addition.

The lab is the “glue” to the kinds of spatial analysis that cut across scientific disciplines, he said, and will allow for a multidisciplinary approach to challenging issues such as climate control.

A weather station is planned for the building and Burnett, whose research on lake-effect snow has been widely publicized, said it will offer real-time data not only for research but for community members who often are forced to rely on unreliable weather reports from outside the Hamilton area.

Brian White ’08, who majors in geology and minors in music, talked about his summer research studying volcanoes in Iceland. He uses an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer in his research, and in the new building it will be housed in a “clean” lab.

“It’s an incredible space for us,” he said.

David Baird, director of academic technologies, discussed emerging trends in technology and pointed out the features of the Meyerhoff Auditorium, where the panel discussion was held.

Equipped with the latest wireless and multimedia options, the equipment in the auditorium and in the classrooms are linked to a central server. So if a professor is having trouble with a projector or the document imager, he can call IT members who can access the equipment from their office and quickly correct the problem.

Tim O’Keeffe, Office of Public Relations and Communications


Colgate celebrates sciences with new building, institute

Colgate is celebrating the sciences this weekend in dramatic fashion with two major events: the dedication of the new Robert H.N. Ho Science Center and the launch of the Harvey Picker Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies in the Sciences and Mathematics.

Alumni, guests, and friends of the university will be on hand for a range of weekend activities.

“This weekend demonstrates the robust nature of our faculty and student initiatives in the sciences and recognizes the generosity of our alumni and friends,” said President Rebecca Chopp.

The $56.3 million science center will house 40 research labs, 45 faculty offices, 13 teaching labs, seven classrooms, a 90-seat lecture hall/auditorium, 60-seat visualization lab, museum, and a teaching/research greenhouse.

It is named in honor of Robert Hung Ngai Ho ’56, who has confirmed a commitment of $27 million to the project.

Faculty members see great opportunities to enhance multidisciplinary study, and the building’s wealth of shared common spaces, including shared classrooms and configurable laboratories, is intended to enhance collaborative learning.

The interdisciplinary nature of the sciences at Colgate will be fostered by the new science institute, funded by Harvey Picker ’36.

The institute supports internal and external collaborations among faculty who bring expertise from disparate disciplines to bear on current and emerging scientific problems. It also encourages interdisciplinary approaches to learning through innovative curricular and research opportunities for students.

Here is a schedule (PDF) of this weekend’s events.

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