Step forward, look back in Science Hall


If Science Hall was named for a film, an obvious choice might be Back to the Future. That's because Science Hall is the only structure in South Jersey where one can peer into the past and delve into the future. On the same day!

If Science Hall was named for a film, an obvious choice might be Back to the Future.

That's because Science Hall is the only structure in South Jersey -- perhaps the entire state -- where one can peer into the past and delve into the future. On the same day!

Dedicated in September 2003 as the first piece in a $500 million, ten-year plan to update campus buildings and infrastructure, Science Hall features a rooftop observatory, fully-functioning rooftop greenhouse and 102-seat planetarium.

The observatory, complete with 16-inch Cassegrain telescope and 10-foot radio telescope, enables students and staff to view astronomical phenomena from the extreme distant past.

"We've taken images of the Andromeda Galaxy, two million light years away," said Dr. Ed Guerra, an associate professor of physics and astronomy. "In fact, we had a student take images of Galaxy M51 - 37 million light years away."

Once captured by the telescopes, images of ancient phenomena can be viewed in the Ric and Jean Edelman Planetarium and studied in state-of-the-art smart classrooms throughout Science Hall. The planetarium has also featured kaleidoscopic star shows with images from the Hubble Space Telescope as well as Laser Metallica, a heavy metal laser show to the tunes of one of rock-n-roll's most enduring bands.

Dr. Joseph Orlins, Assistant Vice President of Planning for Construction and Operations, said Science Hall was designed to encourage high-quality research across the spectrum. It replaces Bosshart Hall, an outdated structure that is slated for demolition, as the chief science facility on campus.

"Bosshart was used primarily to train future high school science teachers so it was set up with labs that resembled high school labs," Orlins said. "Today our students are becoming teachers as well as scientists in their own right and the new building emphasizes instruction for both."


The 150,000-square-foot facility features 27 teaching laboratories and 22 research labs, all containing "smart" technology like Internet access and projection screens for high-tech lessons. Standard classrooms can accommodate as many as 36 students but most lab classes are capped at 24.

"Our undergraduate students are using equipment like electron microscopes that grad students at bigger schools don't even get to use," Orlins said. "The research experience our undergrads get rivals that of many graduate programs."

Dr. Courtney Richmond, an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, believes the technological resources available help unlock her students' creativity.

"One of my students gave a presentation in the planetarium on how bioluminescent organisms find one another," Richmond said. "Using glow-in-the-dark pens, the student made pairs of shapes and passed them out to other students. Then the other students found one another in the dark based on the shape they were given."


Richmond and some of her students utilize the rooftop greenhouse for experiments funded by the federal government on native seagrasses. The work seeks to determine how limited light conditions impede the growth of seagrasses in places like coastal Florida where there is rampant construction of docks and piers.

Such structures block sunlight to seagrasses and stunt their development which adversely affects the environment, Richmond said. Considered an endangered species, the grasses provide structure to sandy areas and increase biodiversity by helping support a wide array of animal life.

"They hold down sediment and prevent erosion," Richmond said. "And they provide food for any number of organisms like manatees, sea urchins and sea turtles."

Richmond said the work she and her students are doing could ultimately lead to government restrictions on construction permits to protect coastal wetlands.


For sophomore Kerri McErlain of Deptford, access to such research opportunities is certainly a draw but what she likes most about Science Hall is decidedly low-tech.

The 20-year-old bio major loves all of the spaces throughout the building designed for quiet contemplation and study.

"My favorite thing is I get to do all my work here," she said. "I'll find an open room and put notes up on the blackboard. I'll draw diagrams on it and use it to teach myself."

Science Hall facts:
$45 million facility dedicated September 2, 2003.
The six-level, 150,000-square-foot structure houses the departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry and Physics and Astronomy.
The facility features a fully-functioning laser laboratory.
Rowan University alumni Ric and Jean Edelman helped fund Science Hall by pledging $1 million toward enhancements for the planetarium, which now bears their names. The gift was the largest ever to Rowan from its alumni.