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Gov. Charlie Baker at speaks at opening of Physical Sciences Building.
April 8, 2019

Gov. Charlie Baker celebrates opening of Physical Sciences Building at UMass Amherst

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  • Amherst
Outstanding physics, chemistry facilities boost STEM workforce in Massachusetts.

AMHERST, Mass. – Gov. Charlie Baker today celebrated the opening of the new Physical Sciences Building (PSB) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a facility funded by the state that fosters and expands cutting-edge collaborative learning and research at the Commonwealth’s flagship campus.

“We were pleased to invest in the new Physical Sciences Building, which will serve as a hub for the natural sciences at UMass Amherst,” Baker said. “The facility’s expansion will help foster new research and career opportunities, which will help support the STEM workforce pipeline here in Massachusetts.”

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy says, “This complex is home to the very best facilities in physics and chemistry, enhancing the research capability for our faculty and students in the College of Natural Sciences and providing the STEM talent that is essential for the state’s innovation economy. We’re deeply grateful for the governor’s support and the state’s investment in UMass Amherst.”

“This project reflects the significance of the Commonwealth’s investment in faculty excellence, scientific discovery and student success at UMass Amherst,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “And it strengthens UMass Amherst’s position as a top-tier public research university that prepares students to thrive in the high-demand STEM fields that are so important to the future of Massachusetts.”

The 95,000-square-foot PSB opened this academic year after three years of construction and incorporates the reconstructed West Experiment Station (WES), a 19th century agricultural soils research laboratory and one of the university’s most historic buildings. Funding for the $101.8 million project included $85 million from the state and $16.8 million financed by the campus through the UMass Building Authority.

The PSB provides offices, specialized laboratories and approximately 130 laboratory benches for the physics and chemistry departments. The laboratories are constructed in a layout that can be reconfigured many times during the life of the building. Among other fields, PSB supports scientific discovery in material science, condensed matter and nuclear physics and organic chemistry. The faculty hosted in these facilities have collectively been awarded $127 million in grants and are working on the forefront of science.

The building was designed by Wilson Architects of Boston, and construction was managed by Whiting-Turner, which is headquartered in Baltimore and has a nearby office in Marlborough, Mass. The laboratories feature an open floor plan, so space for one group is adjacent to that of another, with no walls between them. In addition to the advantages of increasing interactions between groups, this provides the ability for the amount of laboratory space each group uses to broadly follow changes in group size.

The PSB incorporates numerous green building features and has earned Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, a challenge for a building with such high air-handling requirements. The extensive windows and glass walls allow natural light to illuminate the laboratory space. Energy-and water-saving features include high-efficiency fume hoods with a hood monitoring system to encourage closing of hood sashes when not in use and a closed-cycle chilled water loop. There is open space for specialized instrumentation such as glove boxes, and dedicated rooms for high hazard work, solvent dispensing and bacterial cell culture.

The main part of the building, which reaches North Pleasant Street just south of the Lederle Graduate Research Center, owes its modern appearance to an exterior of gray Roman brick and vertical curtainwall, which contrasts with the southwest end of the building which presents the façade of the former West Experiment Station, from which it is built.

The 12,300-square-foot reconstructed WES, which opened in 1887 as the first agricultural experiment station at a land grant college, had become structurally unsound by 2015, so it was deconstructed, moved 20 feet south and 65 feet west, and its brick-and-stone façade reassembled around a new steel skeleton. It is connected to the main part of the building at basement and street level. See related video on restoration of the WES at https://www.umass.edu/newsoffice/article/video-west-experiment-station-reborn-part.

There are no classrooms in the building. The main building has three levels, with the basement accommodating physics laboratories with high bay capacity. Some of these laboratories have specialized features, such as foundations that are isolated from vibration or pits for cryogenic materials. The top two levels hold the laboratory benches, chemistry offices, support and collaborative spaces. Physics department offices are in the WES portion of the structure.

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