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UWF Opens $26 Million Laboratory Sciences Annex

Jennie McKeon

STEM education is on the rise. At UWF, nearly 24% of students have declared a major in the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering.

And with the grand opening of the Laboratory Sciences Annex, those undergrads now have a state-of-the-art facility to conduct research and lab work.

Wednesday afternoon was the official grand opening for the laboratory annex — a 52,790-square-foot, $26.26 million facility funded by the state Legislature. The  facility houses 12 teaching facilities, along with space for future expansion and new equipment.

“This space allows faculty to develop new ways of teaching labs and provide a real-world idea of research,” said Dr. Peter Cavnar, assistant professor and chair of the Department of Biology.

In a news release issued after the 3 p.m. grand-opening celebration, UWF President Martha Saunders said the building reflects the academic work being done inside.

“As UWF grows and improves, we are grateful to add facilities that match the caliber of our students and faculty,” she said. “The Laboratory Sciences Annex is no exception, with amenities that aid us in graduating the best of the best in STEM-related fields.” 

Credit Jennie McKeon / WUWF
The new lab facility has more space and brand-new equipment for students to conduct labs and research.

The old Building 58 — sometimes called “the original 58” — was built in the 1960s and had students working in tight quarters.

“Chemistry and biology students had to share lab space,” explained Cavnar before the afternoon ceremony. “Now, they each have their own floors. We’re no longer overbooked. And there’s a lot of room to grow.”

Being overbooked meant having to conduct labs on Friday nights or Saturdays, said Dr. Karen Molek, chair of the Department of Chemistry.

“Whatever would help the students graduate,” she said. “Now, we have an honors general chemistry lab for the first time. And before, (instructors) would have to shift students in rotation to have enough equipment. Having a whole floor allows students to collaborate.”

Construction on the laboratory annex began in November 2017 and was completed before the fall semester began in August. Now, it’s a hub for science undergrads. 

Credit Jennie McKeon / WUWF
Before the new facility opened in August, the original lab space was inside a 1960s-era building. Students often had to do labwork on Friday nights and Saturdays due to lack of space.

“There was never enough seating at the (old) chemistry lab,” said Cassandra Kelso, a biology student who wants to one day work in biomedical research. “It’s a lot less chaotic here. I like that there are areas for us to sit in between classes. I’ve been able to meet other biology students.”

Lab Manager Michael Cochran said he sees the new facility as a great recruitment tool.

“This is the type of thing that makes students want to come here,” he said. 

Students are studying and researching everything from biomedical to marine sciences, said Cavnar. On one wall, you can see a student project about the effects of microplastics in the water.  With larger teaching facilities, there is more room for more research.

“We hope to raise funds for additional research programs for the university,” added Cavnar. “There’s a lot of eyes on us. We’re a natural model for undergrad research.”

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.