Harned Hall, the university's new science building, is open for discovery

by Chuck Luce

Where the study of science is tangible
A Puget Sound education is not something you receive, it’s something you do. And learning by doing just got a lot more interesting on campus. When the fall term opened, so did the doors to Harned Hall, where the study of science is integrated into the very walls. At every turn in the new building, visitors encounter exhibits, puzzles, and spaces that bring elements of the physical world to life. Each brick in the courtyard helps prove a mathematical theory. Each decorative mosaic demonstrates nature’s order.

Welcome to a facility made for the contemporary teaching of science, where there are fewer lectures and more hands-on learning, smaller classes, more complex equipment, and more opportunities for independent research.

Thompson Hall, the university’s main science facility, was state-of-the-art in 1966. But 40-year-old mechanical infrastructures no longer serve students adequately and do not meet modern code requirements. Now students of biology, chemistry, environmental science, geology, and physics will find common spaces where they can interact with other students, faculty, and staff, and a much improved environment technologically, including wireless Internet access.

To provide maximum flexibility and interaction, new laboratories minimize fixed barriers. They feature seating space for small, group discussion and informal meetings before and after laboratories and classes. Novel modular bench designs and ceiling access to utilities make it easy to rearrange labs. Ventilation hoods and reagent shelves are located along the perimeters to maximize visual contact between teachers and students.

Utilities such as electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling, and fire suppression are designed to exceed requirements. The science center has its own generator to support ventilation in the event of a power failure. Plus, the servers, software, and pipes that bring electronic and computing tools to classrooms and labs exceed current needs in order to meet future requirements. Harned Hall meets the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Silver Rating, using sustainable materials and thermal mass and ventilation strategies instead of air conditioning.

The building is named for H.C. “Joe” Harned ’51. (See page 18 for more on Joe.) More than 600 other individuals and foundations contributed to the project, including The Kresge Foundation and The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.

Harned Hall completes the first phase of the university’s science center project. The next phase includes renovations to Thompson Hall, including a new home for the Slater Museum of Natural History. Thompson renovations began in May and are scheduled to conclude in 2008.

Science on display
Harned Hall is a place where science is not only researched and taught, it is a part of the building’s architecture. The exterior facade is decorated with stone medallions. Two examples are shown on the facing page: a representation of the element tin and a spirograph pattern created when charting the relative motion of the Earth and Venus. Mounted on the interior wall of the east-facing colonnade are two, two-story-high mosaics constructed of 4-inch-square tiles. One depicts the orbits of the planets around the sun, inscribed over an aerial view of Puget Sound. The other is an artistic representation of a logarithmic spiral known as the golden rectangle. The skeleton of a 27-foot-long juvenile gray whale hangs in the building’s entry hall. A Foucault pendulum demonstrating the rotation of the earth is located in the center of the spiral staircase in the main lobby. Hung from the ceiling of the third floor, the cable pendulum is suspended over a base of inlaid wood in the penrose pattern, designed by Professor of Physics Alan Thorndike. An analemma, also in the main lobby, plots the path of the sun throughout the year. The analemma was conceived by Professors Alan Thorndike and Jim Evans. A 10,000-square-foot, multilevel courtyard joins Harned and Thompson halls. It contains a research garden, water feature, study and gathering spaces, and a glass gazebo in the shape of a crystal. One of the largest Science on Display installations lies in the brick pattern of the courtyard, which depicts Sierpinski’s Carpet. The pattern begins with one square, divided into nine congruent squares in a 3-by-3 grid. The center square is then removed. The procedure is applied to the eight remaining squares and repeated infinitely. The resulting design was first described by Waclaw Sierpinski, a Polish mathematician. Sierpinski’s Carpet is a fractal—a shape that appears similar at all scales of magnification.

How do you move an electron microscope into a new building? Veerrry carefully
The university’s electron microscope was old. So old that the manufacturer would soon stop servicing it—a bad thing for such a delicate instrument. But Professor of Biology Wayne Rickoll, who as we shall see is a lover of good deals and a man not afraid to tinker with machinery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, had an idea. He’d heard that Cal State East Bay had a cream-puff transmission electron microscope they no longer needed and were selling dirt cheap.

“It was the deal of a lifetime,” said Rickoll, who flew down to California a year ago to kick the tires on the used scope.

“Sold!” said the professor. He promptly hired a company that specializes in moving big, heavy, sensitive equipment, and arranged to have the microscope stored until Harned Hall was finished.

Spring of 2006 rolled around and Rickoll gathered up a little help to truck the scope, carefully, down to a still not-completely-finished Harned Hall, uncrated it and—panic!—in the previous moving someone had removed a few screws, bending the alignment of the massive stack of electromagnetic lenses, which focuses the electron beam. Plus, the scope’s lenses need to be cooled to a constant temperature with a stream of water, but the chiller apparatus in Harned Hall was not meant for cooling an electron microscope.

Enter some very accommodating guys from the university’s facilities staff—Jay Becker, Craig Benjamin, Robert Ebert, and Jack Young—who, Rickoll said with admiration and gratitude, figured out a way to adapt the building’s plumbing.

Now all that was left was to align the beam. This Rickoll attempted himself. “I’ve always been at a place where the scopes were up and running,” he said. “This was my first time setting one up. I just got up there and started turning knobs, a little each day and testing.” Danged if his patient experimentation didn’t work. In August an engineer from Zeiss of Germany fine-tuned the instrument.

Rickoll said the whole process was a terrific example of teamwork and also credits his student research assistant Pat Moyle ’06 and science support engineer Al Vallecorsa.

A garden for research
Around Harned Hall, even the landscaping becomes a teaching tool. In early designs for the building, landscapers chose courtyard plants based mostly on how well they enhanced architectural features. But Puget Sound Associate Professor of Biology Betsy Kirkpatrick saw an opportunity to go even further and include native plants, both for their ecological benefits and as a live exhibit for her botany students. “It’s a nice opportunity to appreciate what grows here,” she says.

The plant list for the Harned Hall courtyard consists of trees, shrubs, and ground covers such as vine maple, Pacific dogwood, red-flowering currant, snowberry, sword and lady ferns, false lily of the valley, and Western honeysuckle. Unlike exotic plants, these plants have evolved with the Pacific Northwest’s wet winters and dry summers, and developed the defenses that keep native pests at bay. This means that once established, the plants do fine with little or no watering and no pesticides.

The lesson of an environmentally friendly garden goes beyond student learning to anyone visiting Harned Hall. “When community members come to the coffee shop,” Kirkpatrick says, “they can learn about native plants, too.” — Julie Monahan

The data
Size: 51,000 square feet, joined with Thompson Hall on all three levels
Bricks: 64,788
Steel: 676,000 pounds
Glass: 9,625 square feet of windows
Cost: $25 million, part of the $63 million Science Center project.
Occupants: Laboratory spaces and support areas for biology, chemistry, environmental science, geology, and physics.
Architects: SRG Partnership of Portland and Seattle
Contractors: Sellen Construction, Seattle