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NewsOct 26, 2018

New lab offers students rigorous pathway to science careers

Renovations fuel interest in biology and chemistry through larger lab space, new equipment and better research opportunities

Landscape view of the lab with students working in their lab coats.

By Georgia Sparling

A newly-updated laboratory at University Hall, coupled with our new Bachelor of Science in Biology, is providing undergraduate students a clear track to biology and chemistry careers.

“It gives students an opportunity to work in a real modern lab,” Natural Sciences and Math Chair David Morimoto said of the renovated lab. “It transforms our curriculum, plus we have new equipment that enables us to teach new techniques and expand our research.”

Previously, Lesley offered solely a Bachelor of Arts in Biology, primarily for education students double-majoring in science and education. The bachelor in science degree, however, among other additional requirements, carries twice the chemistry requirements of the bachelor of arts (four), necessitating a bigger and more modern space for equipment and experimentation.

A grant from the President’s Innovation Fund enabled the science and math department to update the space over the summer and to purchase new equipment.

A close up of a student in the lab with protective glasses on.
The new lab space will allow students and faculty to conduct more independent research.

“We wanted to support our students who were interested in a more rigorous pathway,” said Assistant Professor of Chemistry Grace Ferris. “Our facilities previously weren’t really equipped to do that safely for a cohort of students or in a way that would be competitive with any other institution.”

Before the renovation, the lab and adjacent prep room had two fume hoods, which students had to crowd around in large groups during experiments. The department added eight fume hoods arranged in pods to create a more fluid workspace in the new lab.

“Not everyone got to put their hands on the material,” Dr. Ferris said. “It’s one thing to understand a procedure intellectually, and it’s a totally different skill to be able to pull it off with your own hands, to feel confident.”

Two students work under a new fume hood in the lab.
Students use one of the new fume hoods for an experiment.

A chemical storage room at the rear of the lab was relocated and the dividing wall was removed to expand the space. The renovations have doubled the lab’s capacity, so that 16 students, working two-per-hood, can safely conduct experiments with proper ventilation. Steven Shapiro, dean of the College of Arts and Science, also suggested the addition of windows to the hallway so that passersby can see the new space.

“People can peek in and see what we’re doing and get excited about science,” Ferris said.

In addition to improving the room’s structure, the department also purchased new equipment to enhance the research potential for students and faculty. The lab now has a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) instrument to study DNA, an outdoor air quality monitor that will enhance field study and a microplate reader that will allow students to study such things as cholesterol or cortisol levels in cell samples.

“The students coming here were the ones who pushed us in this direction,” said Morimoto. And the improvements allow “us to have a critical mass, a cohort of students majoring in biology, at the bachelor of science level especially.”

Students interested in working in science-related industries or graduate school, as well as those interested in becoming medical doctors, dentists, veterinarians, physical or occupational therapists, and other allied health professionals can now complete prerequisite requirements for those programs.

Grace Ferris talks with students in the lab.
Assistant Professor Grace Ferris speaks with a student in the newly renovated lab.

“We basically couldn’t run an organic chemistry lab before, which is required for most health and science graduate degree programs,” said Ferris.

The lab makes the university highly competitive with other schools’ offerings, while also giving students a unique Lesley experience of close mentorship and favorable student-to-teacher ratios, Morimoto said.

“We still serve students in a different way at Lesley,” he said. “I think it’s more integrative and interdisciplinary and collaborative than most other places.”

The department plans to purchase more equipment in the coming years as the biology and chemistry programs expand.