Bishop's University overhauls labs to encourage culture of collaboration

The renovation project director says the $9.3-million upgrades will allow the facility to recruit top-notch scientists and drastically improve the research environment for students.

New facilities bring 'light of discovery' to eyes of students, dean says

Organic chemistry professor Alexandre Drouin stands in front of one of the new fume hoods in the overhauled Bishop's University science labs. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

A renovated 700 square metres of science labs, study spaces and a greenhouse await Bishop's University students when they return to class this fall, and the chair of the university's chemistry department says it's a game-changer.

Chair Alexandre Drouin now has a state-of-the-art lab, after eight years using other facilities in the university.

The $9.3-million renovation project benefits students in astrophysics, biodiversity, epidemiology and cell biology, but Drouin said it's especially good news for professors and grad students in his department.

"There was nothing happening here, it was like a storage room," Drouin said of the pre-renovation chemistry labs.

"When we were able to renovate, I said, 'okay we're going to have a space where my students and I can do research in a proper way.' So we have a lot of room."

The synthetic methodology researcher now has a lab specifically for research work. 

"Now that we have a dedicated space, it's clear we're doing research here, so students can see what we're doing. They get interested in research earlier," he said.

"I feel they are more interested in research now."

Drouin's grad students and interns used to share research space with undergraduate students, and his lab was formerly equipped with only one fume hood — a ventilated enclosure used in chemistry — that was made of wood with a plastic window.

He now has four fume hoods in the lab.

Just in time for the beginning of the fall semester, officials toured the new facilities earlier this week, including Claude Charron, borough president for Lennoxville, Geneviève Hébert, MNA for Saint-François, Bishop's University principal and vice-chancellor Michael Goldbloom, and MP for Compton–Stanstead Marie-Claude Bibeau.

From left, Claude Charron, borough president for Lennoxville, Geneviève Hébert, MNA for St-François, Bishop's University principal and vice-chancellor Michael Goldbloom, Kerry Hull, co-interim dean of arts and sciences, and MP for Compton–Stanstead Marie- Claude Bibeau in the new greenhouse at Bishop's University. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

The overhauled building has been more than two years in the making, following a "Hail Mary" funding application, said Kerry Hull, a co-interim dean of arts and sciences and director of the renovation project.

Hull said she's glad to finally have the finished labs and greenhouse unveiled.

"It made all the work and all the difficulties worthwhile, to see the excitement of the community members, to see the students working in these facilities — and they have the light of discovery in their eyes — to see the joy of the professors, who finally have excellent, top-notch facilities," Hull said.

Greenhouse the 'jewel' of renovation project

The greenhouse, with its 15-foot ceilings, is one of the main fixtures of the renovation.

Everything in the greenhouse is monitored and controlled, from temperature, to humidity and irrigation.

There is a water recuperation system and the ceilings are heated to melt snow off the roof in the winter months and maximize natural light.

All of the greenhouse's plants are organic, including the hops being grown for the university's on-campus brewery.

"You go up there and it smells like life," Hull said.

She said the renovation will help the university recruit top-notch scientists, and that although the greenhouse is "the jewel" of the project, she is thrilled to see the renovated study rooms where students can congregate with faculty and discuss their work..

"Science is such a collaborative venture these days, so the fact that these students are talking to people working in different areas, it's going to spark projects that we can't even imagine," she said.