Professors, legislators, governor, trustee and University dignitaries stand ready to cut ribbon at West Experiment Station

Roots and wings

Ribbon cutting celebrates Physical Sciences Building and West Experiment Station

April 8, 2019

Governor Charlie Baker, UMass President Marty Meehan, Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, and Dean Tricia Serio, along with a host of state legislators and other distinguished guests, celebrated the opening of the Physical Sciences Building and West Experiment Station with a ribbon cutting on April 4. The newly combined buildings continue to foster and expand the collaborative learning and cutting-edge research that are a hallmark of the College of Natural Sciences.  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. 

West Experiment Station connection to the new Physical Sciences Building

As the chancellor noted in his remarks, seeing the two buildings joined together — one a symbol of the university’s legacy, the other a cutting-edge vision of its future — presents a visual timeline demonstrating the roots and the future of the university. “This building exemplifies our commitment to remaining the number one producer of STEM talent for the Massachusetts workforce, and serves as the latest example of the UMass Amherst campus fulfilling its original land grant mission to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Subbaswamy said. The design provides best in class research facilities, powerful connections to existing labs, and collaboration space, in a beautiful, open setting. 

“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.” 

Physical Sciences Building   

This LEED Gold certified building is comprised of labs, lab support and offices for 20 faculty and 130 graduate and undergraduate students. The building’s basement houses high-bay, low vibration laboratories for physics research in the fields of condensed matter, nuclear and particle physics. PSB levels 1 and 2 house open, flexible labs for chemistry research in a variety of fields, including organic electronics, sustainable energy, and smart materials. The top floor is a robust mechanical penthouse, with an energy-efficient heat recovery air handling system.  

Building PSB allowed UMass to move Chemistry research from the top floors of the graduate research tower to a new low-rise lab building, improving safety, collaboration, and visibility, and toupgrade Physics research capabilities, providing high-bay and low-vibration labs unavailable in existing UMass buildingsPSB Chemistry labs provide open concept space, allowing groups to grow or shrink with grant funding, while greatly improving lab safety and resource efficiency. PSB Physics labs have all the cutting-edge features, infrastructure, and utilities (including a helium recovery system) needed to both retain and recruit faculty. Labs are planned to allow research at the highest experimental level, anticipating future directions in research, future instrument sensitivity, and the latest trends in collaboration, shared resources, and indoor environmental quality. This extraordinary “horsepower” provides UMass with a new class of physical science laboratories, opening up new directions in research. 

The design also improves adjacencies between Chemistry and Physics research groupsincreasing collaboration. Critical bridge and tunnel connections from PSB to LGRC and Goessmann Laboratory bring faculty closer together and enable resource sharing across many buildings.  Additionally, within PSB+WES, both departments enjoy communal spaces and various sized meeting rooms, encouraging interaction within and between departments, research groups, and beyond.  

Physical Sciences Building detail 

West Experiment Station  

West Experiment Station, originally known as the Hatch Experiment Station Laboratory, was built along North Pleasant Street in 1886-1887. It was built for the Agricultural Experiment Station, the first such station associated with a state college in the United States.  

The building 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. Individual bricks were carefully removed, cleaned, cataloged, stored, and eventually reassembled. WES is connected to the main part of the building at basement and street level. 

The campus has realized a new lease on life for WES with the PSB’s extraordinary reassembly of the building’s exterior skin. The new building preserves the memory of the original, while providing modern theoretical research space. The project allows the building to remain in use for scientific research and prominently locates the structure on Ellis Way, a major new pathway through the heart of the campus. It now houses faculty and graduate student offices for the Physics department.  

With the opening of this facility, UMass further demonstrates its commitment to the special capacity that research universities have to introduce undergraduates directly to new knowledge and insights. This process takes many forms: scholarship woven into coursework, new tools and techniques demonstrated in the teaching lab, or direct experience as a student works beside a faculty member. Each of these facets is targeted in the thoughtful design of these buildings, further enriching the student experience. 

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