Butler to Boost Science Program

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The $5 million gift is the springboard for a three-phase, $90 million project to overhaul Butler's science facilities. The $5 million gift is the springboard for a three-phase, $90 million project to overhaul Butler's science facilities.

Science at Butler University stands out, and it’s time for the facilities to match the program’s caliber, say school leaders. Pharmacy is the most popular major on the Indianapolis campus, followed by biology, and the university launched a degree in biochemistry in 2016—but professors within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences say the science building is “bursting at the seams” with increasing student enrollment. A recent $5 million gift is being hailed as the first step to fuel an overhaul of Butler’s science space.

“A lot of the techniques we teach our students weren’t invented when the [science] building was constructed and designed,” says Butler Biological Sciences Chair and Professor Dr. Travis Ryan. “So there’s a lot of retro-fitting that has to be done to make sure we’re introducing our students to the most current biology.”

Butler leaders say one in three Butler students is a science major, and enrollment is growing. Gallahue Hall is the 40 year-old “workhorse” that serves as the primary science building on campus.

“But it’s out of date in terms of being structured in a way that science is taught most effectively today,” says Butler College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Dr. Jay Howard. “Our programs, faculty and students all do amazing work at Butler—in some ways, almost in spite of our dated facilities. We can serve more students and serve them better if our facilities were up to date and of appropriate size.”

The $5 million gift from alumnus and longtime Butler benefactor Frank Levinson is the springboard for a three-phase, $90 million project to overhaul the university’s science facilities. Additional fundraising will enable the first phase, a $43 million investment to build additional science space that will wrap around the Holcomb building, adjacent to Gallahue. Holcomb currently houses the business school, which is getting a new building, so science can also absorb Holcomb.

In addition to the new space, Gallahue Hall will undergo major updates. The entire project calls for increasing classroom space, but expanding and updating laboratories is a primary focus—and for good reason, say school leaders; involving undergraduates in research is a key focus that “sets Butler apart.”

“We have students who are looking for a research experience in their first year. When they find the right area to latch on and work with a faculty mentor for three or four years, they have an experience that is every bit on par with a master’s degree-level of research experience,” says Ryan. “We continue to get fantastic students who come in and start being scientists right away. It will be really great when we have the facility that encourages that.”

Central Indiana life sciences companies are guiding that effort. The science school collaborated with Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Company and Roche Diagnostics to plan modern laboratory space that mirrors the firms and related life sciences companies. Howard says the key takeaway is building labs that are highly adaptable.

“The old-fashioned method is you set up lab benches in the middle of the room, attached to the floor so there’s no moving them and fume hoods around the borders that can’t be rearranged,” says Howard. “But things change at a very rapid rate in the sciences, so when you’re building facilities to house science programs, you have to build with flexibility in mind. It could be 20 years from now, and we may want to move a wall or rearrange how these labs are structured.”

Updated laboratories will also open the door for new curricula that requires a different type of space. For example, Howard says a very popular neuroscience minor could expand to become a major.

For a university that ranks second among Midwest regional colleges for being the “Most Innovative School” on a recent U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges list, Butler leaders believe brick and mortar will soon support that spirit of innovation in the sciences.

Howard says Butler’s unique emphasis on undergraduate research demands cutting-edge laboratory space.
Ryan says flexibility is key for new laboratory space at Butler.
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