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EDUCATION
September 22, 2003
Volume 81, Number 38
CENEAR 81 38 p. 35
ISSN 0009-2347

MIT CHEMISTRY LABS GET UPDATED DIGS
Exterior of building designed by celebrated architect is retained while interior gets an overhaul

AMANDA YARNELL

On Sept. 5, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's chemistry department celebrated the completion of three years of renovations to its flagship building with a star-studded symposium and laboratory tours. The overhaul of the Dreyfus Building is just the latest accomplishment in an ongoing push to renovate all of the department's laboratories, according to department head Stephen J. Lippard.

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NEWLY RENOVATED Undergraduate Andrew Danford works in an open, airy, and well-equipped lab in MIT's building 18.
PHOTO BY AMANDA YARNELL
The Dreyfus Building--widely known as building 18 on a campus obsessed with numbers--was built in 1969. Designed by renowned architect and MIT graduate I. M. Pei, whose credits include the expansion of the Louvre in Paris and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum in Cleveland, the building has been admired in architectural circles for its clean, modern lines.

The building got its sleek look from the fact that the normally cluttered lab space was confined to the center of each floor, with only hallways and doors visible through the building's large glass windows. But this design also meant that none of the labs received any natural light, despite the building's copious supply of windows.

The $62 million overhaul--conceived by Boston-based architectural firm Goody, Clancy & Associates, with substantial input from students and faculty--has changed that. Lab space in the building is now light and airy, thanks to lots of glass and light woodwork. The desk areas for students and postdocs, once small and adjacent to the lab benches, are now more generous and facing the windows. Glass windows separating the desk areas from the bench areas let students observe their experiments while working or eating at their desks. From both the labs and the desks there are unbroken views to the outside and plenty of sunshine--at least when Boston's unpredictable weather allows.

The labs are state of the art, with fully outfitted hoods and benchtop work space. The biochemical labs feature walk-in cold rooms for protein purification and walk-in biological safety cabinets for tissue culture.

The renovation was completed in phases, allowing experimental work in building 18 to continue throughout the renovation period. Associate department head Rick L. Danheiser says the process reminded him of something an engineer with Boston's Big Dig once said about the city's attempt to move a major crosstown highway underground: "It's like doing open-heart surgery on someone playing in a tennis match."

Renovation of building 18 may be finished, but it's not the end of the improvements being made in the department, Lippard tells C&EN. In 1995, Lippard spearheaded a fund-raising campaign to support renovation of all of the department's research labs. Custom-made, climate-controlled labs designed for laser experiments were built in 1999, and many of the inorganic chemistry labs were rebuilt in 2000. The department hopes to have all of its research labs renovated by 2005, he says.

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