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Queens Chronicle

Queens College gets a $2M grant

Sen. Avella secures funding for improvements to science laboratory

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Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:28 am, Thu Jul 31, 2014.

At a press conference Thursday in Remsen Hall at Queens College’s Flushing campus, Interim President Evangelos Gizis announced that state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) secured a $2 million allocation for a much-needed renovation to a research laboratory on the hall’s ground floor.

The facility was built in 1949 as a teaching lab for physical chemistry.

There have been a few upgrades over the years such as metal cabinets and a new floor put in about four years ago, said Robert Engel, interim dean of Mathematics & Natural Sciences. But benches, tabletops and supply lines for gas, vacuum and water are original and not suited for research.

“You can tell how old this is,” Avella said, motioning to the outdated equipment. He joked the benches should be in the Smithsonian Institute.

Renovations are expected to begin sometime next year, school officials indicated.

The lab is used by electrochemistry Professor Michael Mirkin, who has a large group of researchers.

They are making due with setups that aren’t designed for research, Engel said.

The upgrade will not only modernize equipment, but also add more space. Future professors and researchers will be able to vary the configuration of equipment to better suit different projects down the road.

Gizis estimated there have been 150,000 students who have received instruction in chemistry or biology since 1937.

“If we have more space, we can actually introduce a few more experiments. That way, the student gets better trained,” Dibyendu Dana, who recently received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry, said. “Sometimes we are squeezed within the space, but with this [upgrade], we would be really able to push the research and let the undergrads really learn the techniques.”

Dana explained he’s seen undergraduates he’s instructed — many of whom are first-generation college students — end up in graduate programs at schools like SUNY Buffalo to get the complete training they need.

“If we can lead them better with new amenities, we can expect a better result,” Dana said.

Before the announcement, Engel led a tour of more modern labs to highlight the disparities in Remsen Hall.

One teaching lab, built four years ago, was designed to allow an instructor to see what students are doing at all times. It has been used about twice a day almost every day for introductory chemistry, Engel said. It holds 24 students, with two stations for physically disabled students.

Engel also led the group to a “reasonably new” 14-year-old laboratory set up as a suite of five smaller research rooms used by biochemistry professor Susan Rotenberg and her students. Rotenberg is in the second year of a three-year National Institute of Health grant for breast cancer studies.

Gizis said he hopes the upgrades will give students what they need to become capable working scientists.

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