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Trinity U. invents a way for innovators to interact
April 4, 2014

Senior engineering students use a flexible workspace in Trinity University’s Center for the Sciences and Innovation, a five-story, multi-winged structure. Helen L. Montoya / San Antonio Express-News  

By Jennifer R. Lloyd, San Antonio Express-News

Trinity University student Zach Meicler, 21, yelped, "Oh, my God, did you see that?" as he and his engineering classmates watched the contraption they'd built send a tennis ball thudding about 70 feet away.

For the engineering program's senior design course, Meicler and seven other students created a prototype for an automated tennis ball thrower to play catch with a dog.

It isn't finished, so senior Pablo Tarquino, 22, was catching instead of a canine.

They've been perfecting their device in the five-story, multi-winged Center for the Sciences and Innovation - which officials call the largest building project in Trinity's history. It will cost about $127.5 million.

Officials expect the overhaul of the final wing to be completed in August, but students and faculty already are using the rest of the 254,431-square-foot complex.

Instead of having science departments in "silos," the new center purposefully jumbles research laboratories and teaching laboratories, classrooms, collaboration areas and study spaces.

The idea is to spark innovation by cross-breeding disciplines like chemistry, biology and engineering.

"Typically, you have departments and buildings that are segmented," said Diana Glawe, associate professor of engineering science. "We've really been able to mix it up with the new building."

Pointing out students and faculty working in glass-walled labs, Glawe said the building's design reflects the concept of "science on display."

Sustainable features crop up throughout, such as a green roof with native plants that biology Professor David Ribble said could double as a living laboratory for plant biology and ecology classes or be used by entrepreneurial students marketing the plants.

"Too often, science is done behind brick walls. You don't see what's going on," Ribble said. "We want people graduating who are not afraid of science, who will embrace it."

Behind a biology lab entryway exhibiting assorted animal skulls, sophomore Antonio Massagli, 19, studied evolution using Petri dishes of E. coli.

He praised the convenience of the new building, in which he can zip from a chemistry lab to check on his bacteria project down the hall.

"I don't have to travel very far to go do everything," he said.

Downstairs, the engineering students worked in "the innovation center," a space with a vaulted ceiling that holds work stations with white boards, flat-screen monitors and sets of hand tools. An instructor can also reconfigure the space for a larger lecture.

"These areas support the design process all the way from looking at ideas to . . . construction and evaluation of prototypes," Glawe said, adding that support areas are located steps away - a machine shop, a wood shop, welding booths, an electronics shop and a computing area with a 3-D printer.

After working on the floor in cramped areas or in repurposed classrooms in the past, engineering senior Kylie Horn-beck, 22, said: "I'm really glad we have something like this now."

 

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