Amherst College Opens New Science Center
The fields of learning that cultivate general intellectual ability rather than technical or professional skills are known as the liberal arts. “Liberal Arts”, as a term, is often used as a synonym for the humanities because fields such as literature, languages, history, and philosophy, are often mistakenly viewed as the only subjects that fall within the liberal arts. However, this narrow view disregards the fact that the liberal arts have included science since the term was first coined by the 5th century Roman philosopher, Boethius.
Amherst College is a private liberal arts college that has long been known for its academic rigor and for being a superior liberal arts college. The institution, founded in 1821, has a total enrollment of 1,836, all undergraduates. Its bucolic campus of 1,000 acres is in rural south-central Massachusetts. Amherst’s ranking in the U.S. News & World Reports Best Colleges edition of 2019 is second in National Liberal Arts Colleges and third in Best Value Colleges. The school is highly selective and accepted only 13% of applicants for the Class of 2022. In addition to the other liberal arts, Amherst offers bachelor’s degrees in scientific fields including biology, chemistry, biochemistry and biophysics, geology, psychology, physics and astronomy, and neuroscience.
Over the last two decades, enrollment in science classes at Amherst has grown by 85%. In order to increase the opportunities for science students to work closely with their professors, participate in hands-on research, and write scientific papers, Amherst funded and built a new Science Center adjacent to the Keefe Campus Center. The Science Center, which opened in fall of 2018 at a cost of $250 million, provides a 255,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility to support the sciences at Amherst.
Designed to promote interaction among students in the sciences, across departments, and with all other fields of study, the Science Center offers an open and accessible learning environment for the entire campus community. The Center is organized into five building elements: two laboratory wings tucked into the hillside along the eastern edge of the site, and three pavilions set in the center of the site facing west, towards the rest of the campus.
The laboratory and pavilions open into a glass-enclosed commons that serves as a gathering space and meeting point for the community. A new campus “living room” is the social centerpiece, including a science library and a café. A comfortable sunken garden is a locus for quiet study. The core of the facility is the open Central Stair, which provides access to all floors. Through its glass walls, the Central Stair offers views of the school’s Greenway outside as well as the labs and workspaces inside. The Science Center contains the all of the science departments as well as the computer science department.
The key feature of the design of the Science Center is embodied in the word “interdisciplinary”. As Amherst president Biddy Martin stated in the press release about the opening of the Center, “Although the Science Center will have advanced facilities for the sciences, it will also accommodate genuinely wide-ranging studies linking many different fields outside of the sciences.”
The Science Center was funded entirely through the support of individuals, primarily from two Amherst alumni. There were no corporate or public donors. As a result, Amherst administrators are free to apply funds as they see fit with no strings attached.
The Science Center not only brings Amherst’s scientific capabilities into the 21st century, but also reaffirms its commitment to the form and spirit of the traditional liberal arts. With this Center and new faculty positions, Amherst sets a standard in the mathematical, physical, and biological sciences that compliments its historic excellence in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.
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