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Texas Woman's University ushers in new era of science with $26.4 million science complex

06/19/2011 10:21 PM

06/20/2011 8:45 AM

DENTON -- Some upperclassmen at Texas Woman's University are a little envious of the labs, tools and space incoming students have at a new $26.4 million science complex.

"It's just awesome. I'm really kind of jealous," said Sarah Sutherland, a senior majoring in chemistry who took the bulk of her science classes in the old complex.

The 80,000-square-foot Ann Stuart Science Complex is an addition/renovation project that modernized the science wing at the Denton campus. University leaders hope the complex will show prospective students that Texas Woman's is invested in science and ultimately draw more science majors.

The university's investment came as educators, politicians and lawmakers say the nation needs more students to excel in science and math, so the country can continue to compete globally.

The university's aim is for Texas Woman's science majors to be among those trying to solve problems about the energy crisis, global warming and diseases, and among those inventing technical tools that will make everyday life simpler.

"We were the leaders at one time, but American kids are not going into science like they used to, so we are losing the edge," said Richard Sheardy, professor and chairman of Texas Woman's department of chemistry and physics. "There are a lot of problems out there that scientists can solve."

The building is helping usher in a new era in science.

Last spring, Chancellor Ann Stuart, for whom the complex is named, donated $200,000 to set up an annual science program that would begin next year and continue through 2032.

Sheardy said the university is also working with Texas Woman's chemistry students to take a science-based magic show to local high schools. The idea is to tell young people that chemistry can be fun.

The science complex project unfolded in two main phases. An addition was completed in January 2010. The renovated portion of the complex was completed this spring. Students will start using that part of the complex this fall.

Primarily, the complex will be used for courses offered through the university's department of chemistry and physics and department of biology. Nursing students and people in health-related fields of study will also use it.

The complex has the latest instructional technology and state-of-the-art equipment for teaching and research in biology, molecular biology, physics and chemistry. The building also has a climate-controlled greenhouse that will be used for botany courses. It is also expected to support research in the role of plants in the prevention of cancer.

"Our old building, before we renovated, had bad infrastructure," Sheardy said, explaining how the air handling system wasn't adequate and paint was peeling from the ceiling and walls.

Sheardy said despite being modernized in the 1980s, the original science building didn't keep pace with the technology today's students expect.

"It was not a very good education facility," he said. "We got through it."

Sheardy said that while science is still taught in a somewhat traditional way -- book, lectures, homework and labs -- students are accustomed to modern tools such as interactive white boards and modern projectors. They expect modern labs equipped with state-of-the-art instruments, he added.

Students said the old building didn't seem inviting.

"You never really ever wanted to go there because it was dark," said Brenna Tucker, a 23-year-old master's student in chemistry.

Tiffany Johnson, a graduate student of business with a TWU bachelor's degree in biology, said students will have more lab space for experiments.

"I think it is wonderful," Johnson said. "I believe it will give students and professors a great access to incredible new equipment."

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

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