A new research facility on the campus of a New Jersey college seeks to encourage the intellectual mixing of students and enhance career preparation.

The forum, which connects the STEM building to the biology building, is an area for students from different fields to collaborate. Photo: TCNJNestled in the suburban area of Ewing, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) is home to more than 6,500 undergraduate students, hundreds of faculty and soon—thanks heavily to funding secured through the state's Building Our Future Bond—an 89,000 square foot science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Building.

The new STEM Building is slated for completion in August 2017 and will house a Biomedical Engineering Research Suite, Computer Science Faculty-Student Collaborative Research Suite, Robotics Laboratory, High-Performance Scientific Computing Cluster, Mechanical Engineering Design Studio, Thermo-Fluids Lab, Solid Mechanics and Vibration/System Dynamics Lab, Metal Fabrications and Assembly Workshop and Physiology Lab.

TCNJ is building a chemistry addition in addition to the STEM building, which will house a Multidisciplinary Super Laboratory Suite. Also included in the project is a forum—a glass-enclosed area for students from across different fields of study to gather—that connects the new STEM Building with the existing biology building. The entire project is projected to cost more than $75 million and, in addition to the Building Our Future Bond, will also be funded through the New Jersey Higher Education Technology Infrastructure Fund as well as through donations to the institution.

The new laboratories will afford TCNJ faculty and students more opportunities to work together to learn, solve problems and help make science more visible.

"We had certainly outgrown our space," Steven Schreiner, Dean of TCNJ's School of Engineering, told Laboratory Equipment. "Over the last decade we've seen a tremendous growth in the number of programs and number of students. The focus of this project was really to give more space for faculty-led research as well as student spaces for their own innovative design projects. We'll have additional ability to build complex designs and validate those designs with advanced instrumentation."

TCNJ’s STEM building is slated for completion by August 2017. Photo: TCNJPrime in design consideration for the STEM building, chemistry addition and forum was interdisciplinary interaction among students and faculty. All laboratories are connected, often with transparent doors, and are easily accessible through strategically placed corridors. The STEM building will be physically connected to the biology building through the forum to encourage intellectual mixing of students.

"What we're really trying to achieve here—well, we actually already have it in place but are improving upon—is the break down of barriers between disciplines," Jeffrey Osborn, Dean of TCNJ's School of Science, told Laboratory Equipment. "When our students graduate, they're going to encounter problems that don't involve only chemistry or biology or computer science. They need the tools to face those problems in the workforce or professional school, so we've built curricula and designed buildings to intentionally help our students make those connections."

Both Osborn and Schreiner worked with the architectural firm EYP to ensure plans that the new construction would meet the needs of the students, faculty and community.

Laboratory design highlights

Biomedical Engineering Research Suite. This biosafety level-2 suite facility will house work in neural engineering and prosthetics, tissue engineering, physiological control systems and hemocompatibility. As the home of the college's newest program, the biomedical engineering laboratory will feature a new confocal microscope and a variety of three-dimensional printers in the cell and tissue culture laboratory that can be used for deposition modeling as well as building scaffolding for larger stem cell projects.

"With this lab in particular, we are trying to increase the ability to conduct research in our laboratory so that we can become a resource for all faculty and students but also a regional and national resource," Schreiner said. "We're working to develop policies and procedures to interface with companies in different ways and become a resource even beyond the university."

Multidisciplinary Super Laboratory Suite in Chemistry Addition. Featuring a multipurpose teaching lab, a synthetic lab, an instrumentation lab, a dry lab and a prep area, the Multidisciplinary Super Laboratory Suite on the second floor of the chemistry addition aims to provide a seamless transition between computational chemistry and experimental chemistry.

Stephanie Sen, Chair and Professor of Chemistry, told Laboratory Equipment that the new space will include cameras and screen capturing technology to facilitate instrument usage and instruction. In addition, new forensics and laser facilities will connect to a computational chemistry laboratory and two synthetic suites. The space will include many microscopes, chromatographers, balances, various spectrometers, solvent purification systems, a glove box and more.

"We're incredibly excited about this particular space," Osborn said. "Together with the architects, the faculty really detailed the ways in which chemistry is done in the 21st century and designed a space that is permeable and porous enough to accommodate that connectivity."

Equipment and instrumentation highlights

Field Equipment Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). The SEM will be placed into an integrated microscopy lab on the first floor of the biology building and will replace an outdated TEM. The new SEM will serve biologists, physicists, engineers, chemists and a number of other researchers.

According to Nathan Magee, Associate Professor of Physics at TCNJ, the SEM is dynamic in function—it can image virtually any sample in its native state. The Hitachi SU-5000 model is a variable pressure SEM—able to perform in vacuum or in a pressure-controlled air or water vapor environment.

The SEM can produce fully live, three-dimensional images and videos along with depth profiles and measurement of surface roughness. Because of the cryo-prep chamber, samples can be imaged and analyzed at any temperature between -190 and +150 C—a feature particularly helpful to Magee's work in ice crystal research.

Scientific Computing Cluster with 300 Servers. As a significant highlight to the Department of Computer Science, the new Scientific Computing Cluster brings together approximately 300 servers to facilitate high-performance computing and important research. Linode, Inc., a cloud computing company in Galloway, NJ, donated the core of the cluster. Features of the system include a private cloud computing infrastructure and distributed computing system that will "expand the computational footprint and abilities for faculty and students across the School of Science," Peter DePasquale, Associate Professor of Computer Science at TCNJ, told Laboratory Equipment.

Specific design elements had to be incorporated into the building to provide the space and power necessary for upkeep of such a large computing operation. In fact, a dedicated room is being constructed to house additional power and cooling support.

"In our design, we also included non-production racks, which will permit students to experiment with cluster design, both hardware and software, during their computer science training," Michael Ochs, Associate Professor of Statistics, told Laboratory Equipment.

Robotics on display

For the groundbreaking ceremony of the new STEM Building, humanoid robots wielded shovels and entertained spectators. Seung-yun Kim, Director of the Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems (CRoIS) Lab, was one of the minds behind these NAO robots.

The college procured about 15 NAO robots and students in both traditional classes and in the Robotics Club program them to perform specific tasks. Students said it took about a day to write the program used by the robots at groundbreaking and some additional time for debugging and troubleshooting.

"We got these robots last fall. You can install multiple programs and give them voice commands," Kim told Laboratory Equipment. "These NAOs are a good tool to recruit and retain students. They're very popular."

The Robotics Laboratory in the new STEM Building, which will interface regularly with the Mechanical Engineering Design Studio, is just one example of TCNJ's focus on fulfilling a project goal of cross-disciplinary learning. As a primarily undergraduate institution, the fact that students have the ability to be so hands-on is an attribute of which the college is proud.

"We have about 1,100 students across the School of Science and about 400 take a credit-bearing research course every year. That means the students have the keys. They're the ones twisting the knobs and spinning the dials, not just watching," Osborn said. "Not only does this facilitate their learning, but it makes them much more competitive when it comes to graduate school or career aspirations because here, we focus on graduating scientists, not just students of science."