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ASU launches cutting-edge chemistry labs

New labs blend digital learning, research for students using industry-leading tools and skills


Four people stand in a doorway about to cut a ribbon.

(From left) Scott Dow, ready to cut the ribbon, is joined by School of Molecular Sciences Director Tijana Rajh, Dean of Natural Sciences Kenro Kusumi and Barbara Dow for the opening of the Scott and Barbara Dow Lab on Thursday, Jan. 11. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

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January 19, 2024

This spring semester, more than 3,500 students now have access to a dozen newly remodeled laboratories outfitted with advanced technology, interactive teaching tools and increased capacity for collaboration. 

A ribbon-cutting event on Jan. 11 celebrated the grand opening of Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences’ newly remodeled chemistry and biochemistry labs, and the dedication of the Scott and Barbara Dow Lab — ASU’s newest analytical and physical chemistry teaching facility outfitted with nearly $1 million of cutting-edge industry instrumentation. 

“These new spaces are going to enable us to conduct exciting new projects and allow us to prepare our students for the future by providing them with experiential learning opportunities similar to those in industrial settings,” said Tijana Rajh, director of the School of Molecular Sciences, who gave opening remarks at the event. “Many people have worked creatively and tirelessly to think about how to use this space uniquely and how to prepare our students for the jobs of the future.”

Located on ASU’s Tempe campus in the Bateman Physical Sciences building, ASU‘s new chemistry and biochemistry labs focus on digital learning and enhanced collaboration. They will host thousands of undergraduate and graduate students each semester, preparing them for careers in fields such as medicine, biotechnology, forensics and environmental chemistry.

Kenro Kusumi, ASU’s dean of natural sciences, emphasized to the crowd that ASU's commitment to foster an interactive and modern learning environment and to grow research excellence is an ongoing response to the country's growing needs. 

“We do research for the future, but we're also investing in the future,” Kusumi said. “These people we're training are our future. It's going to be these students that will benefit from this amazing facility.”

The digitally enabled laboratory spaces embrace new teaching approaches for students to better interact with peers and teaching faculty. The labs leverage technology that allows students to interface with remote instrumentation, utilize augmented reality and keep carbonless copies of their work.

New general chemistry lab renovations also adopt a modern learning environment with dual iPads and 32-inch digital display monitors at each group workstation — replacing traditional lab manuals and paper-based materials and improving multimedia accessibility and instructional design, respectively. 

Professor Neal Woodbury, vice president and chief science and technology officer in ASU's Knowledge Enterprise — and a former School of Molecular Sciences director who helped initiate the remodel process — discussed the historical need for renovation and the importance of the new student spaces to foster teamwork, communication and essential skills required by employers. 

“It's really quite remarkable what's been done in terms of putting together something that allows the teamwork and communication that the people who want to employ our students absolutely require,” Woodbury said to the crowd. “When I talk to local companies, the skills to be able to work with each other, work on problems together, come up with solutions, and to have an environment to do so, makes all the difference.” 

The new labs are designed with modern seating, storage and work surfaces, and improved lighting and air handling.

Also, new student collaboration spaces with flexible design give students multiple seating options and make it easier for students to meet before labs to prepare for class or to discuss and write up their results.

Instrumentation for a new era

Situated on the third floor of the Bateman Physical Sciences Building within the Scott and Barbara Dow Lab, advanced analytical and physical chemistry equipment populates the room from wall to wall. 

Nearly $1 million worth of industry equipment, the largest laboratory equipment donation the School of Molecular Sciences has ever received, will give upper-division students vital hands-on experience with industry spectroscopy, chromatography and other analytical instrumentation, and will teach them new skills ahead of graduation to be used in future careers.

“We’re so excited to have students use this (equipment),” said Barbara Dow at the celebration, standing in the lab next to an instrument that is used to detect heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and lead. 

Dow and her husband, Scott, for years have employed ASU alumni. 

“When we had students coming to us from ASU, they had never seen some of these instruments before, and every single intern we had at ASU with instrumentation experience, we hired immediately,” Barbara Dow said. 

“It's really important for us to have ASU students using this equipment to be employable the day after they graduate and that they stay in Arizona. We need these brains to stay here, and we’re so proud to be part of this.”

Ushering in a new kind of chemistry lab

At the lab opening ceremony, William (Bill) Petuskey, emeritus professor and a previous chair of ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences from 2006 until 2012 (then known as the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry), gave a history of the building and ASU's chemistry programs.

Acknowledging to the crowd that four past and current School of Molecular Sciences directors were present that evening, he stressed the school’s unshaken dedication to student education and success.

“ASU has been responding according to the needs of the community, and that's the same for the School of Molecular Sciences and this building — it’s in response to it,” Petuskey said. “It takes time, it takes effort, it sometimes takes a lot of confrontation to get it done, but when it does happen, it really is pleasing to see it for the future of our students.”

Acknowledgments

In addition to the people mentioned in this article, the School of Molecular Sciences recognizes the contributions of Beatriz Smith, Ron Briggs, Trevor Whipple, Julie Sudduth, John Crozier, Lauren Blaha, Jeff Burnett, Joshua Jeffs, and the many other staff and teaching faculty involved in the design and development of the new chemistry laboratories.

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